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Contrast between1834 and 1907 in United Kingdom

The Contrast between 1834 and 1907 and the Principles of 1907

In this issue about the contrast between 1834 and 1907, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It is not without interest to contrast the three “principles of 1834” with the three “principles of 1907.” In both cases the three principles hang together, and form, in fact, only aspects of a single philosophy of life.

The “principles of 1834” plainly embody the doctrine of laisser faire. They assume the non-responsibility of the community for anything beyond keeping the destitute applicant alive. They rely, for inducing the individual to support himself independently, on the pressure that results from his being, in the competitive struggle, simply “let alone.” As the only alternative to self-support, there is to be presented to him, uniformly throughout the country, the undeviating regimen of the workhouse, with conditions “less eligible” than those of the lowest grade of independent labourer.

The “principles of 1907” embody the doctrine of a mutual obligation between the individual and the community. The universal maintenance of a definite minimum of civilised life-seen to be in the interest of the community no less than in that of the individual-becomes the joint responsibility of an indissoluble partnership. The community recognises a duty in the curative treatment of all who are in need of it; a duty most clearly seen in the medical treatment of the sick and the education of the children. Once this corporate responsibility is accepted, it becomes a question whether the universal provision of any necessary common service is not the most advantageous method of fulfilling such responsibility-a method which has, at any rate, the advantage of leaving unimpaired the salutary inequality between the thrifty and the unthrifty. It is, moreover, an inevitable complement of this corporate responsibility and of the recognition of the indissoluble partnership, that new and enlarged obligations, unknown in a state of laisser faire, are placed upon the individual-such as the obligation of the parent to keep his children in health, and to send them to school at the time and in the condition insisted upon; the obligation of the young person to be well-conducted and to learn; the obligation of the adult not to infect his environment and to submit when required to hospital treatment. To enforce these obligations-all new since 1834-upon the individual citizen, experience shows that some other pressure on his volition is required than that which results from merely leaving him alone. Hence the community, by the combination of the principles of Curative Treatment, Universal Provision and Compulsion, deliberately “weights” the alternatives, in the guise of a series of experiments upon volition. The individual retains as much freedom of choice as-if not more than-he ever enjoyed before. But the father finds it made more easy for him to get his children educated, and made more disagreeable for him to neglect them. It is made more easy for the mother to keep her infants in health, and more disagreeable for her to let them die. The man suffering from disease finds it made more easy for him to get cured without infecting his neighbours, and made more disagreeable for him not to take all the necessary precautions. The labour exchanges and the farm colonies aim at making it more easy for the wage-earner to get a situation; perhaps the reformatory establishment, with powers of detention, is needed to make it more disagreeable for him not to accept and retain that situation. We must, in fact, recognise that the “principles of 1907,” to which experience has gradually brought the Central Authority, “hang together” in theory and practice no less than did those of 1834.

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Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

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  • Article Name: Contrast between1834 and 1907
  • Author: Patricia M. Leopold
  • Description: The Contrast between 1834 and 1907 and the Principles of 1907 In this issue about the contrast between 1834 and 1907, the [...]

This entry was last updated: March 21, 2017

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