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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

The Howard Association. — Annual Report. — The Great Social Problem

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The Howard Association.

Annual Report.

The Great Social Problem.

The special degree of attention which, in so many quarters, has been directed, during the past year, to the great social problem of the best methods of ameliorating the condition of the overcrowded masses of the population, renders it appropriate for the Committee of the Howard Association to make some reference to their own long and steadily continued action in this direction. They have always urged that in regard to questions of crime and pauperism, the best mode of procedure is to endeavour to prevent them. With this conviction, they have systematically directed a considerable portion of their efforts to the collection of facts, and the persevering diffusion (through the public press and otherwise) of information and suggestions, illustrative of the best practical modes of promoting those social conditions which tend to diminish crime and increase order and morality. In particular they have repeatedly sought to increase the attention of thoughtful persons to those first principles in relation to these subjects which are so apt to be often overlooked, and especially during times of more than usually sensational interest is such questions.

Thus, in 1880, they prepared and very widely circulated a paper entitled "Overcrowding and Crime," * in which it was especially pointed out that what is wanted is neither the wholesale destruction, nor construction, of the dwellings of the poor, at public expense, but rather the simple yet strong remedy of the appointment, by the Government, of "officers armed with effectual powers to prevent the erection of dwellings unfit for human habitation, and to make fit those now unfit, at the expense of the owners. "In their annual Report for the same year, the Committee further dwelt upon the absurdity and injustice of encouraging the owners of squalid human styes in their criminal neglect by actual compensation, as was largely done by recent legislation, and especially by "Cross's Act."As well might a butcher be compensated for being forbidden to sell rotten meat, or a careless chemist for no longer dispensing arsenic promiscuously. The owners of all houses should simply be required to maintain them in necessary sanitary condition, or to shut them up until so fitted for habitation. Inasmuch as the members page 4 of many of the Vestries, or other local bodies, are themselves pecuniarily ointerested in the maintenance of such slums, therefore the Committee, in their issue of 1880, specially urged the appointment of officers, or "A Ediles,""armed with effectual powers "—that is, to be responsible to the central Government, or Local Government Board, and not, as hitherto, to the Vestries merely.

But this was a chief practical conclusion subsequently arrived at by the best writers and speakers during the general discussion of the same question in 1883-84.

One of the ablest of these writers and speakers, Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P. (a valued member of the Howard Association) has during 1884, added some practical contributions to this controversy, as by pointing out that actual harm would be done if the Communistic system of providing very cheap dwellings for the poor, at the public expense, were adopted. The great cities, especially London, would thus offer further temptations to very poor people from the provinces and from abroad to crowd into them. Then the labour market in these cities would be still more overcrowded, wages further lowered, and poverty consequently increased. The natural laws of supply and demand operate more wisely and mercifully, in the long run, than artificial interferences with them, however well-meant. Only the supply must be a sanitary one, and not of legalised slums and fever dens. Many landlords, and some Members of Parliament, specially amenable to vested interests, cannot see, or will not adopt, the obvious simple remedy. They resemble the slaveholder, whose invincible ignorance of the rights of liberty was illustrated by placing a coin over the word "God."So, often, pecuniary interests blind the eyes and will to what is due to both God and man. The Legislature of New South Wales appears to have more promptly seen the way to obviate much of the evil of unsanitary dwellings. They compel the owners of slums to destroy or renovate them, and entirely at their own private cost, such cost being some degree of just compensation to the public for the sin of having permitted these slums to exist.

The lately appointed English Royal Commission on the Dwellings of the Poor may be expected to collect and publish many interesting details of information. But it is not likely to issue any final general recommendation more practical than one for the enforcement of landlords' responsibilities and of the abundant sanitary provisions of existing laws, by means of independent inspectors and local officers, responsible mainly to the Central Government.

It is a first principle of Social Science that the sources of overcrowded squalor and vice are to be found mainly in such causes as Irreligion, Intemperance, and Improvidence. To some extent the nature of the dwelling moulds the nature of the people. But, in far greater and more general degree, the habits of the latter affect the state of the former. Some years ago, many of the best houses in Boston (U.S.A.), the former residences of rich merchants who have betaken themselves to the suburbs, came into the possession of persons who let them out, in rooms and tenements, to a poor and squalid class of the population. The result was a speedy dilapidation of these fine old houses, which became as filthy and shabby as other slums. A similar effect has been produced, in many neat new cottages at Walthamstow, Tottenham and other suburbs of London, through their treatment by a morally low class of tenants. If millions of money were expended on new dwellings for such people it would be a huge waste. The first thing to be done is to promote, by individual and church effort, the extension of Education, Temperance, and Religion.

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In 1876 the Howard Association prepared and very widely diffused another paper on this great social problem, as regards some of its most fundamental points. It was entitled "Modes of diminishing Intemperance," and received the special commendation of the late Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Tait), the present Bishop of London, and the late Dean of Westminster (Dr. Stanley). Amongst the needed reforms therein advocated were a more effectual restriction of those chief causes of drunkenness and poverty, the excessively superabundant licensed houses for the sale of alcoholic drinks. The Committee then remarked:—"Without even changing the existing body of Licensing Magistrates, it would be very advantageous to select from their present lists, small committees of not more than three Justices for each Division of every County, to whom should be absolutely committed the granting and control of all Licenses in the district, without any appeal to the Quarter Sessions, and without any collateral grants of Licenses by the Excise. Members of Quarter Sessions are apt to have no knowledge of local wants, and a mere Excise body may have no conscience. Hence, Local Option, in some form, is essential."

The Committee, on the same occasion, drew attention to the great success, over a limited area, which had already attended the efforts of the local Magistracy and Police (but stimulated mainly by several energetic teetotalers) at Luton, in Bedfordshire, to resolutely enforce the provisions of the existing "Prevention of Crime Act,"so far as applicable to low public-houses harbouring disorderly characters.

The Committee added the following remark, which is as much applicable now as in 1876:—

"Yet, in various large places, the Liquor Traffic influence can so far control both the Magistracy and the Police as to secure a general laxity of supervision. Hence the appointment of Independent Inspectors, by the Government, or by Local Option Committees, or local Municipal Bodies, to act as general supervisors (similar to the Inspectors of Factories, &c.), and to have power to summon defaulters before the Courts, would be a further check on existing evils."

As to Sunday Drinking, it was added that if the total closing of public-houses on that day could not be secured, at any rate there should be a considerable extra charge for licenses to sell liquor on Sundays, and permitted on only a very limited scale.

Both in the paper quoted and in the Annual Report of the Howard Association for 1876, the Committee dwelt at some length on the importance of affording greater facilities and encouragement to the poorer classes for acquiring habits of Thrift. Their Report of that year, in particular, contained a suggestion which has, since, been extensively and prominently taken up in other quarters, namely, the desirability of establishing a National Club, or at least some further provision for the promotion of Thrift by Government aid.

The Committee then urged that, in view of the bitter disappointment and misery occasioned to thousands of helpless and ignorant victims of insolvent or fraudulent "Friendly Societies "and private Clubs, there should be established a Government Club universally accessible to all contributors, and securing regular assistance in the time of sickness and old age. Of course there would be practical difficulties, and imposture would have to be carefully guarded against. But the Committee thought that most of these difficulties would be obviated by the adoption of three general principles.

Firstly, tliat the provision obtainable through such a Club should be limited to amounts sufficient to obviate destitution. Secondly, that the bonâ fide nature of sickness, or inellpacity, in reaard to claims on the Club, should be established not only by the non receipt of, any pay for work, hut by the certificate of some impartial local authority. Arld, thirdly, that the remunelation of the loeal doctors employed in connection with such a page 6 Government Club should be made, at least in part, dependent on the absence rather than the presence of claims on the ground of disease; an additional stimulus to the prevention of sickness and the detection of imposition being thus afforded.

Other modes and aspects of Thrift, Temperance, &c., were also dwelt upon by the Committee at that time, as also subsequently.

The Committee have reason to believe that their persevering action in these and similar directions has usefully contributed to increase the public interest and practical efforts in reference to such questions.

It is interesting to observe that the Great Social Problem is not only being studied, as to its yet unsolved difficulties, but it is also being practically solved to no inconsiderable extent, and in many directions, by the respective action of both organized and individual efforts, each of which is essential in its place. But there has been, there is, and there will be, little if any real progress, apart from a religious basis. Hence the special success which has attended the labours of the London City Mission, the Salvation Army, and numerous Churches and Chapels whose ministers and members have for years past pursued a persevering course of local elevation of the poor. Many of these have been very effective, though comparatively little known, as compared with other similar movements.

Mr. William Cuff, an active pastor of a large East End chapel, recently summed up the practical aspects of the subject thus:—"I have no new method to argue into existence as a means of reaching the people and changing their condition. I have but little confidence in anything the Law can do for the people except it is to put bit and bridle on the burning mouth of the drink traffic and sweep away half the public-houses. You may pull down the shanties and build model houses with next to no rent; but if you do not, and cannot, change the people themselves, the 'Bitter Cry' will mock your effort, and this social and moral corruption will rot and fester still. Education will do something; but I do not rest in the dream of Mr. G. R. Sims that it will change the condition. Emigration does not touch the real sore place in the body politic; and I have no hope that it will. If I am so negative in all this, what is the positive position I would take and would urge on others 1 My reply is explicit and emphatic—Just what we have taken; and as much more, on the same lines, as is possible. I plead that no spasm of excitement be allowed to turn us away from old and well-tried methods to new and uncertain ones. Let every Church foster her best life and use her best gifts and graces for purely home mission work and the change in the condition of the people will be marked and marvellous. We need not despair, with the Gospel in our hands and God at our back, pledged, by every sacred word of promise and love, to help us. Let us do our proper work and carry the Gospel to every house, and every man, woman and child. If we search for their souls, as for a treasure, we shall find them in gutter, alley and slum-poor, hard and prejudiced; but responsive to the touch of a noble sympathy and capable of being won back to God."

Another practical solver of the Great Social Problem, and on a large scale, Mr. C. H. Spurgeon, lately gave almost an identical experience with the above. He said, "i have no new specific for the betterment of the world, no new specific, only to keep on as we are going; only more so. Especially more City Missionaries, more house-to-house and room-to-room Visitation."

* This, with other papers and reports, issued from time to time by the Howard Association, is out of prints, but may be referred to in various libraries, as for example those of the British Museum, the statistical society, &c.