Under the heading of "London Pauperism" the Standard newspaper is publishing at intervals what promises to be a series of exhaustive articles upon the mode in which relief is administered in the various parishes throughout the metropolis. The articles promise to be of considerable value, and at the present time, when so much public attention is being given to the subject of poor-relief, must have considerable value, by reason of the care exercised in the preparation of the details of the articles and the candid spirit with which they are put before the public. The articles are not of the sensational character of which complaint has been made, and with a great deal of justice in Bethnal-green; but evidently aim at depicting our poor-law administration as it is, "nothing extenuating, and setting down nought in malice." Our space forbids our reprinting the articles in extenso, but they deserve to be placed in substance before our readers so far as they relate to the East-end of London.

The earlier articles are, of course, general in their character, and they bring out in strong relief the difference in the treatment the poor receive in different metropolitan parishes. In order to show this at a glance the writer has deducted from the gross poor-law expenditure in each case the cost of lunatics, the interest and loans for workhouse buildings, the salaries of officers, and other miscellaneous charges connected with relief, all of which are subject to a variety of fluctuations, having no reference to the inquiry in hand. This done, he finds that in the provinces 81 per cent. (deducting decimals) of the whole relief given is given in out-door relief; that in the metropolis generally only 42 per cent. is so expended, leaving 58 per cent. to be spent on in-door maintenance; so that "on the whole, the metropolitan poor receive little more than half the assistance in their own homes which is thought necessary for their provincial brethren, and it is a significant fact, which throws a doubt on the metropolitan policy, that pauperism is decreasing everywhere but in London itself." Small as is this amount of out-relief given in the metropolis generally, it is found grossly disproportionate between the various London parishes; and Bethnal-green stands conspicuous for the smallness of the out-relief afforded, and the immense percentage spent within the workhouse walls. The following are the percentages in the several divisions for in and out-relief respectively:—

Bethnal-green 82.3 per ct. 17.7 per ct.
St. Martin's-in-the-Fields 81.0 19.0
St. James's, Westminster 79.0 21.0
St. Giles and St. George's, Bloomsbury 77.5 22.5
Kensington 70.0 30.0
St. George the Martyr, Southwark 69.2 30.8
St. Olave, Southwark 69.0 31.0
Stepney 68.8 31.2
Wandsworth and Clapham 67.4 32.6
St. Luke 67.2 32.8
Mile-end Old-town 67.1 32.9
St. Pancras 66.6 33.4
St. Margaret, Westminster 65.5 34.5
St. Saviour, Southwark 65.5 34.5
St. John's, Hampstead 65.2 34.8
St. George's, Hanover-square 64.2 35.8
Marylebone 63.0 37.0
St. George's-in-the-East 62.6 37.4
St. Mary, Newington 62.0 38.0
Whitechapel 61.6 38.4
Strand 60.0 40.0
Holborn 59.2 40.8
East London 58.4 41.6
St. James's, Clerkenwell 55.5 44.5
St. Leonard, Shoreditch 54.4 45.6
West London 53.5 46.5
Bermondsey 52.0 48.8
City of London 51.2 48.0
Chelsea 51.0 49.0
Camberwell 48.7 51.3
Hackney 46.2 53.8
Lewisham 43.7 56.3
Islington 43.4 56.6
Fulham 42.4 57.6
Greenwich 41.8 58.2
Paddington 40.9 60.0
Lambeth 31.7 61.3
St. Mary, Rotherhithe 35.4 64.6
Poplar 31.4 68.6

The writer pertinently asks upon these figures: "Is there any peculiarity in the poor of Bethnal-green, that they shall be treated so differently from those of Poplar? The former, with a dense and poor population of 105,000, must have many more applications for relief than the latter with 79,000 who are better off; and yet we find that Poplar expended 10,214l. a-year in out-door relief, and Bethnal-green only 2,307l. Nothing could more thoroughly condemn the present system of administration than this damning fact. The treatment of the poor should at least be uniform and humane. To break up the poor man's home and force him into the workhouse is to pauperise him for ever. We look to Government for a remedy, and we sincerely trust that the measure about to be introduced by Mr. Villiers will provide an executive which shall administer the law with equal liberality in every part of this great city."

Paddington is the first parish specially treated of, but we need not refer to the statements concerning this, save when they afford a contrast which may point a moral. Bethnal-green is next dealt with, and its poor-law administration is described as the exact antithesis of that of Paddington. "The area of the union (Bethnal-green) is 760 acres. The population in 1861, 105,101. The rateable value of the property, as assessed to the county rate, is 192,117l.; and the present expenditure for the relief of the poor is provided by a rate of 2s. 2½d. in the pound." This is a mistake; the poor-rates average 3s. 6d. in the pound per annum. After some remarks on the poor character of the district, the writer says: "It would seem, therefore, that the guardians of the poor have before them a Herculean task; on the one hand they have to deal with a mass of sickness and distress almost impossible to realise; and on the other, they have the knowledge that if they meet the evil manfully, with the intention of curing it, it involve sacrifices on the part of the proprietors which will well-nigh confiscate their whole means. Shall we wonder, therefore, that these very persons, who constitute the majority of the Board of Guardians, are afraid to act, and remain contented to rub on from day to day, and from year to year—although they must see ruin staring them in the face—unless the wealthier districts of the metropolis step in to help them?" He adds, however, with a considerable degree of truth, of the Board of Guardians, "that there is a remarkable absence of men of superior education, that many of them have risen from the very lowest ranks, and that they do not take that large view of their duty towards the poor which has for its first object their present and future benefit. Penny wise and pound foolish, they think alone of the present expense; and the rates being heavy and the paupers overwhelming, they go from day to day as best they may, so only that the poor escape starvation and be driven to all sorts of expedients rather than apply to them."

The free manner in which the deliberations of the Board of Guardians are now offered to the public pres having been noticed in terms of commendation, the writer proceeds:—

"One fact struck us with peculiar force. It was, that the officials were perfectly self-satisfied with the system pursued. They laboured under the impression that they had been greatly maligned by the public press, and that they needed only the inquiry we proposed in order not only to be absolved from all blame, but to be raised to a high pinnacle of honour for the kind and liberal treatment which the poor receive; indeed, one of the relieving officers, proud of his office and care, went so far as to challenge a comparison with any other union."

"The discretionary power of the relieving officers is most sparingly exercised; we rarely found that they gave more than 1s. and a loaf, the whole in kind, to the most pressing cases. We were informed that relief to the extent of 4s. was sometimes given, but we could discover no such case very lately. The total expended by the three officers on their own responsibility during the week ending March 7 was 2l. 1s. 5½d. Besides this, they now and then lend rugs and blankets without consulting the board. As officers, they appeared to us attentive to their duty, and kindly-spoken to the poor, but they are the fitting servants of a wretched system, and without disparagement it may be truly said that they are totally unequal to the duties such officers should, in our judgment, perform. It is a circumstance to be noted, that the united salaries of the three officers was equal to 14½ per cent. of the whole amount of relief given to 1,481 poor, each officer distributing less than 20l. for his salary of 2l. 8s. per week."

"The poor in the receipt of relief are visited very frequently, but that circumstance seems to produce little effect upon the amount and nature of the relief. We heard constant complaints of the loss caused by frequent attendance at the Board and in obtaining the relief ordered; but we doubt whether in the last case it can be otherwise, when so large a number of persons have to be separately attended to."

"The orders of the medical officers for extra food and stimulants are, as a rule, at once attended to; but one of the officer stated that he was not bound by them, and did not always comply with them. The medical officers have no difficulty in obtaining air beds and other comforts required by the many cases of fever which refuse to be removed to the Fever Hospital. All the articles of relief in kind are supplied from the relieving office; we noticed that the price of meat was only 7s. 4d. per stone of 14lb, which is 2s. per stone less than at Paddington; nevertheless the quality is said to be tolerably good. The bread is made in the workhouse, and is of excellent quality, and very full weight. The grocery is sent in in packets of the value of 3d. each. When ordered before the Board, the poor assemble at two o'clock P.M. in a large room, well warmed, and admirably adapted for the purpose; in fact, we cannot but remark that the whole building is itself splendid, and fitted up with every comfort. There is also a second room, where tea and other refreshments are served when the business is done; indeed, these offices, which must have cost 8,000l. at the least, seem totally inconsistent with the surrounding poverty, and negative the idea that there is any real difficulty in obtaining."

"We have attended the meetings of the board twice. On the first occasion 390 applications were dismissed in two hours and a-half. In the second 355 in the same time, which is at the rate of more than two per minute. The process is as follows: Each pauper is called in, the relieving officer reading rapidly his notice of his case, and scarcely has the applicant appeared, and often before he reached the bar at which he is appointed to stand, he was pushed out of another door, with the order, 'Come here again to-morrow at nine o'clock.' The relieving officer's statement can, as a rule, be heard only by the chairman and the vice-chairman, and only in exceptional cases did any other member of the board take part in the proceedings. On two occasions a discussion arose. Once on a question of settlement, and again as to the propriety of relieving a woman with an illegitimate child out of doors. In no case did the applicant make any important statement, though we observed that more than one made a vain attempt to be heard, and this we confirmed by a subsequent inquiry, which shall be hereafter detailed. It is right to explain that many of the applicants did not answer to their names, and that a very considerable number of cases were brought before the board simply for the purpose of having the relief confirmed, which had been recommended by the surgeons for the use of the sick. Nevertheless, the whole proceeding is a complete sham; investigation is exclusively left in the hands of the relieving officers, and it seemed to be understood that the poor could do nothing but tell lies and practice imposition that they might obtain relief. If the cases disposed of with such rapidity are well known, it is pure cruelty to order them up as often as once a month, and after making them wait for hours to push them in and out of the room in the way we have described; but if, on the contrary, they are not known, and need discriminating care, they have a right to be heard themselves as to their condition and wants."

"Very full returns as to number and treatment of the out-door poor are published weekly for the information of the guardians and the Poor-law Board. From these we find that for the week ending Mar 7 1,481 persons were relieved at a cost [of] 57l. 19s. 3d., or rather more than 9¼d. each. We found Paddington giving 2s., and it is necessary to note the contrast. Of this amount 37l. 1s. was given in kind, and 20l. 18s. 3d. in money. The great difference is not so much in the relief in kind as in the money, which does not amount to 3½d. per head, whereas in Paddington it was more than 1s. 6d. But even this amount of relief cannot all be ascribed to the guardians. Of the 59l. 19s. 3d., 13l. 0s. 4½d. was expended for the special use of the medical officers, and was simply confirmed by the Board; and we must further deduct the 2l. 1s. 5½guardians. expended by the relieving-officers on their own responsibility, and which was probably distributed to some thirty or forty applicants. Making these deductions, we shall find that 1,400 persons were relieved by the guardians themselves at a coast of 20l. 19s. 2d. in kind, or a total of 42l. 17s. 5d. which is at the rate of 5½d. for each individual. These figures are indisputable, and were confirmed by the books of the relieving-officer, and by numerous cases which we intend to give in detail by-and-bye."

"It is difficult to conceive any condition of things which can explain or justify relief like this, and its utter insufficiency will become more apparent when we proceed to investigate the causes for which relief is sought. In the first place, no able-bodied person is ever relieved out of the house; only two such cases have occurred in the whole half-year. There is, of course, the usual proportion of aged and infirm persons, and we observed that the more common allowance was 2s. per week, and that in exceptional cases it was 2s. 6d., but we saw an old person, who was lame and decrepid, dismissed with only 1s. 6d., which is by no means an uncommon sum in such cases. There appeared to be a somewhat large proportion of widows and children, many of whom were dismissed with a shilling and two loaves; and we shall hereafter illustrate the practical result of such a wretched pittance.... The greater part of out relief is rendered necessary either by the sickness of the male parent or of some other member of the family. Thus in one half-year the applications relieved on the first account were 166, and on the second 115; and in consequence, no less than 422 women and 1,229 children were thrown upon the parish for assistance until that illness was relieved or cured. It is for them that 5½d. per head per week is granted by the guardians, and it is impossible by any comment we can make to add ought to the fact. No tongue can tell the miseries of the Bethnal-green poor when sickness overtakes them, and no pen can describe the cruel mockery of their sufferings perpetrated under a law for their relief...."

"Many cases were pointed out to us as examples of liberal relief, which amounted to 6s., 7s., or even 10s. per week; but we almost invariably found that the expense was due to wine and other costly extras, ordered by the medical officer; and, indeed, it seems rare for the guardians to give more than 2s. or 3s. per week without a certificate—even in the most aggravated cases. It is not our intention to comment upon the observations we have made. The cases by which we intend to illustrate the condition of the poor in Bethnal-green will be more eloquent than anything we can write. That there is glaring inequality in the administration of the poor-law, and that this inequality deserves the attention of the Government there can be no doubt. Of the many arguments for the existence of the Poor-law Board none has ever been more prominently insisted upon than the introduction of a uniform execution of the law. This, at least, the poor have a right to demand; and if, under existing arrangements, it cannot be obtained, it is the duty of that Board to ask the legislature for a fitting remedy."

In a subsequent day's paper a selection of case is given, of which the writer says:—

"We have used our best endeavours to avoid exaggeration even in the least detail, and to present amongst others the most favourable instances of liberality which the books could show. During the administration of relief our attention was specially roused by the order of 5s., 6s., and 7s. per week in several instances, and we were gratified with the hope of finding the Board much more liberal than we were led to expect. We therefore made full inquiries into the particulars of these cases, and we present five which were pointed out as the most liberal which have occurred during the last three months, and two of them were selected by the relieving officers themselves as the best examples of what is now being done. Every case described has been visited at home, and we wish to bear testimony to the fact that the relieving officers saw them punctually, and gave most excellent reports of their condition, notwithstanding the presence of smallpox and other disease."

Case 1 is "Bristow—, his wife and two children labouring under fever; received relief in kind to the amount of 14s. per week for four weeks in August and September last. The guardians gave nothing for the woman and children, who must have consumed part of that ordered for the patient. The entire relief consisted of wine, brandy, meat, and necessaries ordered by the doctor. This patient refused to be removed to the Fever Hospital."

Case 2 "for twenty-four weeks received relief in kind to the extent of 18s. per week; the whole on the doctor's certificate. Wine, brandy, meat, milk and bread were ordered by him. No other relief was given. The family, therefore, lived upon the allowance made specially for the man. Since his death the widow applied for assistance, and received 2s. per week. She is now in the Fever Hospital, and all the children in the workhouse."

The other cases (3,4,5) are very similar. The writer objects to the system, as practically placing the whole relief in the hands of the surgeon, who takes away the responsibility of the guardians and their officers, and also as being more expensive and unfitted to the condition of the poor.

Cases 6 and 7 are of the more dreary kind—'relieved' by the Board, apart from the doctor's certificate. Case 6 "was visited by the relieving officer, and relieved to the extent of 6½d. in kind, and the woman ordered before the Board. The relieving officer reported the man ill in bed and consumptive, and 2s. a week was ordered for three weeks.... When the wife went before the Board she attempted to tell them that the doctor and that her husband required good living, but she was stopped and told to come next morning. They did not know the orders of the Board, and when told, the poor man resigned himself to God's care, and gave an exclamation of touching despair. Having been present at the relief of this case we can fully corroborate the statement of the woman. There being no certificate from the doctor, the case was relieved solely upon the representation of the relieving officer. We presume the surgeon thought the case sufficiently obvious, as indeed it was. The man was confined to bed and reduced to a skeleton. By his side was a mass of expectoration, which must have shown the existence of extensive disease of the lungs, and the history and appearance of the case convinced the relieving officer that it was one of genuine distress. Moreover, the doctor gave a message confirming all this, which at least was entitled to some notice. Without any knowledge of the previous struggle for independence, the present condition of the pair should have called forth some more fitting relief, than 2s. per week. There was no thought for the woman either, no provision for her, yet her assistance was necessary, and her work altogether destroyed by the husband's illness. In the conviction that sufficient relief would only be supplied under the surgeon's order, we recommended her to seek his further aid."

Case 7 is a still more dreary story of a wine porter, aged forty-three, brought to distress through having poisoned his hand, and the consequent loss of employment. While under the doctor's care he was treated liberally, but he got worse, went into Guy's Hospital, the medical relief was stopped, and the wife applied to the relieving officer for temporary relief during her husband's absence. "She told him that she had one day's work every week, and that altogether she could earn about 1s. 6d. per week, that she was unwilling to break up her home, and that moreover she had friends who would assist her if the parish would do something for her. He ordered her the workhouse, and gave her an order to attend the Board. She did so, and says that she was not asked a question, and was stopped when about to speak. She had given to her an order for the house. She then went to one of the clergy, who gave her 2s. 6d., and ordered her to make a fresh application, making use of his name, and saying that he would be willing to increase the stipend of the parish, if one were granted. The relieving officer called at her house, and said that nothing more could be done." The story of her consequent sufferings is a truly harrowing one, but we have not space to repeat it. It concludes the Standard articles, so far as they have gone. In the next we are promised an account of the treatment of widows and their children by the same authorities, and an examination of the general effect of their administration on the moral and physical condition of the poor committed to their charge.


Do you want to see if there is more on a subject? Follow these links to the subject index: