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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 86

II.—The Number of Our Paupers

II.—The Number of Our Paupers.

Those who talk glibly about the abolition of the Poor Law can hardly have any adequate conception of the extent and character of the pauper class. It seems to have been assumed by the authors of the Act of 1834 that real destitution might fairly be regarded as an exceptional and accidental state, and that the awful permanence of the pauper class was merely the result of the demoralising old system. This idea is encouraged by the optimistic statistics reiterated by the Local Government Board, which show: "That the mean number of paupers relieved in the parochial year ending at Lady Day 1889, was smaller in proportion to the population than in any other parochial year included in the table. It amounted to 795,617, or a thirty-sixth of the estimated population."* Including Scotland and Ireland, the total becomes over a million.

A million of our fellow-citizens in pauperism is more than a trifle. But that is not the whole tale. It has been pointed out over and over again that the Local Government Board statistics of pauperism, and especially the references to "one thirty-six of the

* P. lxi of c—5813.

page 5 population," are misleading. They record merely the number of persons in actual receipt of Poor Law relief on one particular day. But Poor Law relief is now usually given for short periods at a time; and a large proportion of those who become paupers during any one year are not in receipt of relief during the whole of the year. The plan of granting relief only for short periods at a time is steadily becoming general.

In 1857, a careful computation was made in various ways of the number of different persons who, during the year, were paupers at one time or another. The total was found to be 3½ times the number for one day, and this calculation has since usually been accepted.* Hence, instead of 2.8 per cent. we get nearly 10 per cent. of the population, or at least 3,500,000. as the class actually pauper during any one year.

Nor is this the worst aspect of the case. While a man or woman is in the prime of life, and free from sickness or accident, it may be assumed that pauperism is relatively exceptional. The appalling statistics of the pauperism of the aged are carefully concealed in all official returns. No statistics are given by the Local Government Board as to the percentage of aged paupers. No information was given on this point, even in the census of 1881. Although the occupations at each age were then obtained, the Registrar-General discreetly and humorously merged all paupers over sixty in the class "retired from business," so that the enriched army contractor and his aged workpeople were combined to swell this one category

In 1885, Canon Blackley found that in his parish, 37 per cent. of the deaths of persons over sixty, during fifteen years, had been those of paupers. He obtained returns from twenty-five other rural parishes, and found that 42.7 per cent. of deaths of persons over sixty were those of paupers, Returns obtained from twenty Unions in England, selected entirely at haphazard, and including metropolitan and provincial, urban and rural districts, show the following results :
Indoor. Outdoor. Total.
Total paupers in 20 Unions 12,669 15,922 28,591
Number over sixty-five years of age 4,332 7,112 11,444
Percentage 33 45 40
Number over seventy years of age 2,728 4,728 7,456
Percentage 21 30 26
If we may assume these Unions to be fairly representative of the whole—and the results coincide closely with those given by other tests—it would follow that out of the 817,190 persons simultaneously in receipt of relief in England and Wales, on the 1st of January, 1889, there would be at least 250,000 over 65, and 200,000 over 70 years of age. At the census of 1881, the percentage of persons over

* See Dudley Baxter's "National Income," p. 87; and Mulhall's "Dictionary of Statistics," p. 346.

Report of Committee on National Provident Insurance," p. 159 of H.C. 208, 1886

See House of Commons Return, No. 36 of 1890.

page 6 those ages to the whole population was 4.57 and 2.64 respectively. Among the estimated population on January 1, 1889, of 28,628,804, there would accordingly be about 1,309,000 persons over 65. One in five of these is a pauper. There are approximately 756,000 persons over 70. Of these two out of seven are permanent paupers. Of the 250,000 paupers over 65, about 200,000 get outdoor relief; of the 200,000 over 70, about 150,000 receive this weekly dole; the remainder are in the workhouse infirmary, or aimlessly gazing at vacancy in the dreary "idle room" of the workhouse itself.

Extending these statistics roughly and hyp Hyputhetically to the United Kingdom, with its million of simultaneous paupers, and its 88 millions of population, we find about 1,700,000 persons of 65 years of age, of whom about 325,000 are permanent paupers; and about 1,000,000 persons over 70, of whom 250,000 are permanent paupers. Other statistics go to confirm this broad result.

In London, one person in every five will die in the workhouse, hospital or lunatic asylum., In 1888, out of 79,099 deaths in London, 41,505 being over 20, 10,170 were in workhouses, 7,113 in hospitals, and 380 in lunatic asylums, or altogether 17,663 in public institutions.* Moreover, the percentage is increasing. In 1887 it was 206 of the total deaths; in 1888 it rose to 22.3. The increase was exclusively in the deaths in workhouses and workhouse infirmaries. Considering that comparatively few of the deaths are those of children, it is probable that one in every four London adults will be driven into these refuges to die, and the proportion in the case of the "manual labor class" must of course be still larger.

Nor is there much hope of appreciable reduction in these figures at any early date. The proportion of paupers to population has remained practically stationary for the last twelve years.* The steady diminution in the number of able-bodied adults relieved is counterbalanced by an equally steady growth in the number of sick persons and lunatics, for whom collective provision is now made, as well as apparently by a slight rise in the number of the children and the aged. We may for some time to come reckon on having to make constant public provision for the needs of a million people in receipt of relief, representing a pauper population of at least three millions. It accordingly behoves us to see that this collective provision is as far as possible prevented from having demoralising or other injurious effects. Collective provision, when not combined with collective control of industry, may easily become demoralising to character and detrimental to the best interests of the recipients; and against this danger we must jealously guard. But we need not deliberately add to the possible objective demoralisation of the collective provision an unnecessary subjective demoralisation due to public stigma pr disgrace. We must depauperise our deserving paupers. The whole range of Poor Law experience up to 1834 appeared to show

* Registrar-General's Report, 1889, C—5846, pp. 2, 72 and 94.

* See Local Government Board Report, C—5813.

page 7 that public boards could not be trusted to discriminate between individual cases; and the cast-iron rigor of the New Poor Law was the inevitable result. What we have been learning since 1834 is that discrimination must be more and more exercised between classes of paupers, not between individual cases, and that any Poor Law reform must necessarily proceed on this basis.

We have hitherto been so impressed with the danger of increasing the number of the shiftless poor, that we have managed to exercise a degrading and demoralising effect on those persons, many times more numerous, whose poverty is their misfortune, not their fault. We must now try a bolder experiment in what is necessarily our great collective laboratory of individual character. The time has come for us to maintain not only the bare existence, but the respectability of the aged, infirm, and orphaned poor, rather than content ourselves with the mere repression of the idle rogue and vagabond, whom the existing social order has often demoralised beyond redemption.