« PreviousContinue »
Vestry Act, the parochial Minister had no efficient share in the administration of parochial concerns. From his connection with the poor, he is most likely to know their wants and merits ; and as by this Act he is made an essential and constituent part of the Select Vestry, his interference in their concerns becomes a part of his duty. His presence renders him the moderator of disputes, and gives him an opportunity of adding dignity and respectability to his character. And the combined efforts of the clergyman and the vestry have, it is believed, had no inconsiderably beneficial effect on the morals and conduct of the poor
themselves. Lastly, And what by many persons may be considered as the most efficient proof of the benefits of this mode of administration, the sums expended on the poor have been materially reduced—the average expenditure of the last ten years having been one-third less than the average of the ten years preceding* As, however, I have been arguing that the principle of the English Poor Laws is essentially good and right, and their administration only defective, it was incumbent in me to prove, as well as I could, that they could be better administered. And the interval between the first publication of this Essay in 1822, and the present time, has enabled me to produce the statement in the Appendix, to which I need not add I have great pleasure in referring. It has proved, that without the exertion of any thing more than common talents and common honesty on the part of ordinary men, (for such are those who compose the Select Vestries,) the Act for establishing them will be found practicable in its execution, and efficient towards the end proposed, which was the reduction of the Poors' Rate, without being injurious to the real interests of the Poor.-The Poor Laws are now interwoven,-happily, in my opinion, with the Laws and Institutions of the country. There is no one, I believe, who has thought at all on the subject, who denies that in some way or other all the indigent who come under the various denominations as classified in p. 118 of this Essay, with the exception of the 7th, have claims on society for their support. And with respect to that unfortunate 7th Class, the children of able-bodied labourers, against whom Mr. Malthus and his followers have proclaimed everlasting war, referring to what is stated above, in p. 104, I am enabled to state the following fact.--It was not until the year ending March 25, 1824, that the accounts were kept so accurately as to discriminate the several classes as stated in p. 118. But for the last six years in which they have been so kept, I find that out of £7999 paid to the actual
* See Appendix.
relief of the poor, £931 or about one-ninth only was paid to persons of this class*.
It is difficult to produce decisive evidence of the success or failure of a practical moral experiment. The infinite variety of the motives of human actions elude the most habituated observer, however impartial, and prevent him from forming a correct opinion ; and the testimony of the person who produces an experiment, grounded on his own theory, may be justly suspected. But there are evidences to be drawn from the nature of the propositions themselves, which appeal to our common reason and general experience, and are, therefore, entitled to more weight than solitary instances and insulated facts of
The mode of administering to the wants of the indigent in Scotland is almost universally by the system of domiciliary relief. Their practice is held up, by almost every writer on the subject,
* The accounts of the parish have been kept in the Italian method, or by double entry, which is the only one that I yet know of to prevent fraud, and present facility to the under. standing of them. It may perhaps be also worth while to state that in the same six years 1. The sums actually paid for the relief of the poor £ were
7999 2. Connected with the poor, but not for their relief 1240 3. Unconnected with the poor
1424 The proportions are nearly as 40—61–74.
+ Dugald Stewart. Elements of the Philosophy, &c. vol. ii. chap. iv. sect. 5. p. 474. (8vo. edit.)
as tending more effectually to keep up the spirit of independence among the industrious poor, and contributing more to the comforts of the indigent poor, than
yet adopted. But when the system of compulsory assessment began to press on the inhabitants of Edinburgh, a Lord of Session* remonstrated against the erection of a Poor-house, stating that their maintenance in their own houses, or as boarders in other private houses, was in the spirit of their system of Poor Laws as expressed in the proclamations of William III., from 1692 to 1698, and confirmed by Act of Parliament in the latter year.The accumulating all kinds of poor in large houses is a very questionable project, but it is an error very apt to occur in the commencement of a systematic relief. At Florence in 1820, and at Brussels in 1828, I saw magnificent buildings erected, and the display of method and management was imposing. For the maintenance of the latter of these houses, sums were appropriated by the municipality from the “octroi,” or tax on all kinds of provisions brought into the town. For that of the former, it was attempted to provide by the profits of labour from the poor employed, but the deficiency was supplied by a direct taxation. But the views of those charitable and humane persons who are devoting their time and attention
* The late Lord Swinton.-See Communications to the Board of Agriculture, vol. vi, part 1. and sce ante p. 100.
to the ameliorating the condition of the poor in France, where every mode of relief for indigence, connected with public establishments, already subsists, are directed to the adoption of a system of domiciliary relief*. That which is the practice in Scotland, is the anxious object of the wishes of France. This system has been long the practice of England; but, owing to change of time and circumstances, the administration of it has become inefficient, and the attention of the Legislature, which has been directed to this object, has effected an important change in the characters and powers of the administrators.
The funds to maintain the system of domiciliary relief in Scotland have been irregularly raised, owing to the difference of charitable feelings in the possessors of them; but there is in the law of the land sufficient powers to correct this inequality : and Dr. M’Farlane, nearly forty years ago, predicted the enforcement of this law*. In France, the dependence on voluntary charity is very imperfect ; yet there seem to be obstacles too deeply rooted in its altered and revolutionary constitution, to effect the double objects of domiciliary relief and compulsory local assessment. Scotland and England are approaching to si
* See M. De Gerando, Visteur du Pauvre, passim. † Supra, p. 25.
Inquiry, p. 150.