« AnteriorContinuar »
mediately above them. Tradesmen and farmers, and their families; and many individuals belonging to the middle classes, have not been slow to avail themselves of the advantages of savings banks; and they have been a good deal resorted to by domestic servants, especially by females. But ordinary labourers, and particularly those working by the day, have been seldom found, at least compared with those now referred to, carrying their surplus earnings to savings banks. This is much to be regretted; for they are the very class to which these institutions would be of the greatest service. Perhaps something might be done to overcome or lessen this culpable neglect of their own obvious interests on the part of workpeople. A man who will not avail himself of the means in his power for securing himself against want, has but slender claims on the bounty of others. And it were well, perhaps, if the treatment of the poor applying for relief were made materially to depend on the extent to which they had availed themselves, when in health and in employment, of these and similar institutions.
It is unnecessary to engage in this place in any discussion with respect to the comparative merits of friendly societies and savings banks. Both are excellent, and well fitted to promote the advantage of the labouring classes. The promotion of habits of accumulation is but a secondary object in the formation of a friendly society; and though it certainly has that effect, it has it, generally speaking, in a less degree than a savings bank. Its grand object is to provide a security against future want-to guard against those accidents and casualties to which all are liable, and against which no individual efforts can ever afford an effectual protection, A savings bank is unquestionably also a most valuable institution; but it does not supersede the other, It does not give the poor man that security which is given him by his becoming a member of a well-constituted friendly insurance society. Nothing, therefore, can be more unreasonable and ill-founded than the hostility to friendly socie
ties manifested by many patrons of savings banks. Both institutions are intended to promote the improvement of the poor, and to enable them to support themselves. And being equally well calculated to effect these desirable objects, it is, to say the least, not a little inconsequential and absurd for those who are the friends of the one to labour to misrepresent the other and to bring it into disrepute.
It would, however, be unjust not to mention, that though some of the patrons and supporters of savings banks are opposed to friendly societies, there are many amongst them who take a more correct and comprehensive view of the subject, and who are equally friendly to both. The advantages of friendly societies are nowhere better stated than in the tract, to which we have already referred, of the late Dr. Duncan, of Ruthwell, who was one of the first to promote the foundation of savings banks, and to whose philanthropy and intelligence these institutions have been largely indebted. "There is one point of view," says he, "in which the friendly society scheme can claim a decided advantage. An individual belonging to the labouring part of the community cannot expect, by making the most assiduous use of the provisions of a savings banks, to arrive at sudden independence; on the contrary, it is only by many years of industry and economy that the flattering prospects held out by that system can be realized. But health is precarious, and accident or disease may in a moment put an end to all the efforts of the most active and expert. It is under such circumstances that a very striking difference appears in favour of the friendly society scheme. He who should trust entirely to the progressive accumulation of his funds in a savings bank, might now find himself fatally disappointed. If he had not been fortunate enough to realize a considerable capital before the sources of his subsistence were dried up, the illness of a few weeks or months might reduce him to a state of want and dependence, and cause him to experience the unhappiness of mourning over impotent efforts and abortive hopes. On the other hand, the man who has used the precaution to
become a member of a friendly society has made a comfortable and permanent provision against the sudden attack of disease and accident. The moment he comes to acquire the privilege of a free member, which, by the rules of most of those institutions is at the end of the third year after he began to contribute, he is safe from absolute want, and the regular manner in which his weekly allowance is paid him enhances its value. Nor is this provision liable to any of those objections, which have been so strongly urged against the system of poor rates. Instead of degrading and vitiating the mind, its tendency is directly the reverse. The poor man feels that he is reaping the fruit of his own industry and forethought. He has purchased, by his own prudent care, an honourable resource against the most common misfortunes of life; and even when deprived of the power to labour for a livelihood, an honest pride of independence remains to elevate and ennoble his character."
Influence of the Poor-Laws over the Condition of the
It would be foreign to the purposes of this treatise to enter into any lengthened inquiries in regard to the principles and practical operation of the poor-laws. They were instituted. principally with a view to the advantage of the poor. by providing a refuge and a support to the latter in periods of revulsion and distress, they powerfully contribute to maintain the public tranquillity, and consequently conduce to the prosperity of the other classes. Practically, however, their influence is of a mixed description, and is in part at least unfavourable. It would be easy to show that in countries
1 An Essay on the Nature and Advantages of Parish Banks, 2nd Edition, p. 50.
like this, a compulsory provision for the maintenance of those who are unable to maintain themselves, is not only a most valuable, but an indispensable institution. Yet it is plain that such provision being independent of their own industry and thrift, will in some degree detract from that sense of selfreliance on which the well-being of every man must always mainly depend. And it is farther plain, that if you make the provision equal and indiscriminate-if you place the industrious and the lazy, the frugal and the thriftless, on the same footing, you can hardly fail to weaken some of the most powerful motives to good conduct in the virtuous part of the community, and to strengthen the vicious propensities in those that are bad. And hence it is, that much of the real effect of a compulsory provision for the poor depends on the mode in which it is administered. The law says that no man in England shall be allowed to suffer the extremity of want, and in so far it treats all classes alike. This equality does not, however, go for much. Her peculiar rewards still remain to industry. The labourer who has saved some little property by contributing to a savings bank or a friendly society, and who perhaps has acquired a cottage and garden, has nothing in common with a pauper. He is elevated by the consciousness that he has not neglected the opportunities afforded him of improving his condition; that he is not indebted for his subsistence to the grudging charity of others; and he enjoys a much larger share of comfort and respectability than those in higher situations will readily imagine. But those who have nothing but the poor-laws to fall back upon when their health fails, or they happen to be out of employment, are in a widely different situation. They are not left to die by the way-side, to be starved or frozen to death, and that is about all that is done for them. They are deprived of their liberty, shut up like felons in work-houses, and compelled to submit to the discipline and perform the tasks enforced in these establishments. Nothing, therefore, can be a greater error than to suppose that the labouring classes are placed, how different soever their characters and conduct,
through the operation of the poor-laws, nearly on the same level. And in point of fact, the poor have themselves the greatest interest in preventing any such equalization; for were it realized, good conduct, industry, and forethought would no longer enjoy that superiority to which they have an irresistible claim; and the external circumstances of the virtuous part of the community would be reduced to the low level of the vicious and the improvident. Imprisonment, hard labour, and inferior food are all that the law of England assigns to sloth, dissipation, and profligacy. And it is of the utmost importance that these vices should never fail to be accompanied with their proper punishment. To make work-houses comfortable, is to pervert them from their peculiar purpose. The more they are complained of, provided they be not unhealthy, the better. They should be places of refuge for the destitute, but with as little to recommend them as possible.
It is true that the best and most industrious individuals are subject to bad health-to all sorts of accidents, and that they may be compelled, without any fault of their own, to become claimants for public relief. And it may be asked, are these parties to be obliged to resort to work-houses, and to be subjected to the same treatment as the slothful and the disorderly? We answer, Certainly not. Such cannot be the case, unless the administration of the poor-laws be grossly defective. Industrious labourers, if overtaken by poverty, should, if practicable, be provided for at their own houses, or those of their relatives or friends. The work-house either is or should be appropriated to the use of a very different class, those whose destitution has been occasioned by their own misconduct, who are suspected of counterfeiting poverty, or whose laziness and disorderly habits prevent their being employed. "Sloth and improvidence dispose a man to live gratis (precariously) and ungratefully on the public stock, as an insignificant cypher, a sordid wretch, filching food out of the public granary, but yielding no compensation or benefit thereto." Persons of this description are the proper