Thursday 18 November 2010

The Undeserving Poor

There's been a lot of talk recently about Con/Dem policy going back to 'Victorian values' and the 'undeserving poor'. I thought I'd have a look at a couple of articles and see what our ancestors had to say on the subject. Here's a quote from an article in the Westminster Review of 1904, entitled 'Social Parasites' (so you can probably guess the author's political leanings) ... do you recognise any of these factors given as 'causes of poverty'? They seem very familiar to me, in terms of modern political debate about benefits &c. - so is it true that 'the poor are always with us', or do we still live in a Victorian/Edwardian world?

"As philanthropic efforts, backed up by lavish outlay, have failed to deal effectually with our existing pauperism, and its many resulting evils, I would suggest that the causes of such imperfect success, and also of the widewspread poverty which at present affects such large classes, might generally be regarded as coming under the following heads:
    (1) The fact that money or its equivalent is often to inconsiderately given under the name of charity, that thrift, foresight, self-reliance and self-respect are positively discouraged.
    (2) The frequent misdirection and misappropriation of funds subscribed for definite benevolent purposes. Amounts much larger than necessary are in many cases applied to working expenses, payments to officials, and sometimes to more unwarrantable purposes.
    (3) The want of thrift so noticeable in the lower working classes.
    (4) The prevailing tendency of the poor to contract early and imprudent marriages.
    (5) The gambling tendency rapidly spreading amongst the lower orders.
    (6) The universal tendency to drink, owing to obsence of moral self-control, amongst the very poor, who find the public-houses, always in evidence, a ready temptation, and drink the only solace for a dreary and monotonous life.
    (7) The prevalence and tyranny of trade-unionism, which is driving our industries to foreign lands and driving our artisans out of work.
    (8) Foreign competition.

1 comment:

  1. If we can find reasons for blaming the poor for their predicament then we excuse ourselves from spending our lovely money on them and can with all due moral justification keep it for ourselves.

    This notion has been with us throughout history. It appears (through its opposite) in the parable of the Good Samaritan; Charles Dickens explored it in A Christmas Carol; and a famous modern encapsulation of the concept was the phrase "On yer bike," emitted by a certain Norman Tebbit.