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In forming a comparison between the systems of the Foundling Hospital, and the domiciliary relief as provided in England, I leave my readers to draw their own conclusions. The Legislative Assembly in France were not blind to the obvious fact, that fewer children would be exposed, if the children of the poor could be relieved at the houses of their parents*.
III. The last species of indigence which I have reduced to a classification is that proceeding from the want of labour. I perfectly agree with all moral writers on this point, that “ he that is not willing to work should not eat;" but the will to work may exist with the impossibility of procuring labour. Once more I extract from Mr. Malthus, vol. i.
25. “We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food, therefore, which before supported eleven millions, must now be divided among eleven millions and a half. The poor, consequently, must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers, also, being above the proportion of work in the market, the price of labour must tend to fall, while the price of provisions must at the same time tend to rise. The labourer, therefore, must do more work to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family are so great, that population is nearly at a stand. In the mean time, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of an increased industry among them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence may become in the same proportion to the population as at the period from whence we set out. The situation of the labourer being then again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened; and after a short period, the same retrograde and progressive movements, with respect to happiness, are repeated. This sort of oscillation will not, probably, be obvious to common view; and it may be difficult even for the most attentive observer to calculate its periods."
* Dupin, p. 305.
He must have been but a very imperfect observer of the state of society who does not concur in the above just and correct observations respecting this oscillation of the demand for labour. What prudence and caution in the labourer can guard against this oscillation ? and when the demand for labour is less than the number of labourers, and consequently many are reduced to indigence for the want of labour,—to pursue Mr. Malthus's own metaphor,—what machinery can correct this oscillation, but the fly or regulating wheel of a provision from the State, either national or local? Mr. Malthus in the Introduction to his Treatise on Political Economy observes, that it bears a nearer relation to the science of politics and morals than to that of mathematics. No rules can be therefore laid down by legislation, which can prevent the evils of the oscillations which reduce the labourer to severe distress ; and therefore the legislative provision for his relief appears to be of paramount necessity in civilized states. I consider the person who applies to the parish, in consequence of want of labour, in the character of an indigent person, and that it is in that character alone that the law directs him to be supported. I make this observation, because many Magistrates consider they have a right to order the parish to which the applicant belongs to find him labour; and orders have been framed to this effect, founded on the following clause in the 43d Elizabeth, c. 2, which directs that “ the churchwardens and overseers of the poor shall take order from time to time for setting to work the
children of all such whose parents shall not, by the said churchwardens and overseers, or the greater part of them, be thought able to keep and maintain their children: and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and use (using) no ordinary and daily trade of life to get their living by."
Now, as the assumption in this case is, that the indigent person who has the full possession of health and strength, applies for relief only under the impossibility of procuring employ, it is absurd to expect that the parish which has no capital, and no available means of giving him employment, should do that which the capitalists, who employ labour, cannot do; and therefore I consider it as expedient, that the Legislature should declare such orders invalid; and that, in such cases, the order should specify the cause only, and that the application of the relief,whether by employment or in any other mode, should be at the discretion of the select vestry. With respect to those parishes where the Select Vestry Act has not been adopted, the law might remain as it now is; for where the principal inhabitants choose to neglect their duty and their interest, the discretion may be as well left with the magistrates as with the overseers.
The distinction between the able-bodied man
willing to work and unable to procure it, and the able-bodied man unwilling to work although able to procure it, will be much more accurately made by those who are in the constant habit of conversing with and superintending them. In my frequent attendances in select vestries I have never seen any want of this discrimination. Without denying that the oscillation of labour
throw upon the public fund
many persons who have the inclination as well as the ability to labour, I believe that it will be found, that the generality of those who apply, are such as have forfeited their character by their misconduct or their profligacy, or, to say the least, such as through their improvidence and thoughtless prodigality have wasted those earnings which, acquired in the summer, would, with common prudence, have maintained them during the winter. There is in England so great a quantity of convertible capital, that as soon as labour is cheap, it is called into action much sooner than in those countries which entirely depend on agriculture, and where the agriculturists can lay by no capital. The repeal of this clause would tend to remove some of the most specious objections which have been urged against the poor-laws. He who, with the use of his limbs and in full health, is compelled to resort to the parish, not for employ, but for relief, reduces himself lower in the scale of society; and