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Poor—representing a group of men such as Patrick Colquhoun, Sir I. Bernard, Dr Lettsom, Dr Haygarth, James Neald, Count Rumford and others—took a more positive line and issued many useful publications (1796). After 1833 the very atmosphere of thought seems changed. There was a general desire to be quit of the serfdom of pauperism. The Poor-law Amendment Act was passed in 1834, and since then male able-bodied pauperism has dwindled to a minimum. The bad years of 1860–1870 revived the problem in England and Scotland, and the old spirit of reform for a time prevailed. Improved administration working with economic progress effected still further reductions of pauperism, till on the 1st of January 1905 (exclusive of lunatics in county asylums and casual paupers) the mean number of paupers stood at 764,589, or 22.6 per thousand of the population, instead of 41.8 per thousand as in 1859 (see Poor-law).

Charity organization societies were formed after 1869, with the object of “improving the condition of the poor,” or, in other words, to promote independence by an ordered and co-operative charity; and the Association for Befriending Young Servants, and workhouse aid committees, in order to prevent relapse into pauperism on the part of those who as children or young women received relief from the poor-law. The Local Government Board adopted a restricted out-door relief policy, and a new interest was felt in all the chief problems of local administration. The movement was general. The results of the Elberfeld system of municipal relief administered by unpaid almoners, each dealing with but one or two cases, influenced thought both in England and America. The experience gained by Mr Joseph Tuckerman of Boston of the utility of registering applications for relief, and the teaching of Miss Octavia Hill, led to the foundation of the system of friendly visiting and associated charity at Boston (1880) and elsewhere. Since that time the influence of Arnold Toynbee and the investigations of Charles Booth have led to a better appreciation of the conditions of labour; and to some extent, in London and elsewhere, the spirit of charity has assumed the form of a new devotion to the duties of citizenship. But perhaps, in regard to charity in Great Britain, the most important change has been the revival of the teaching of Dr Chalmers (1780–1847), who (1819) introduced a system of parochial charity at St John’s, Glasgow, on independent lines, consistent with the best traditions of the Scottish church. In the development of the theory of charitable relief on the economic side this has been a main factor. His view, which he tested by experience, may be summed up as follows: Society is a growing, self-supporting organism. It has within it, as between family and family, neighbour and neighbour, master and employee, endless links of sympathy and self-support. Poverty is not an absolute, but a relative term. Naturally the members of one class help one another; the poor help the poor. There is thus a large invisible fund available and constantly used by those who, by their proximity to one another, know best how to help. The philanthropist is an alien to this life around him. Moved by a sense of contrast between his own lot, as he understands it, and the lot of those about him, whom he but little understands, he concludes that he should relieve them. But his gift, unless it be given in such a way as to promote this self-support, instead of weakening it, is really injurious. In the first place, by his interference he puts a check on the charitable resources of another class and lessens their social energy. What he gives they do not give, though they might do so. But next, he does more harm than this. He stimulates expectation, so that by a false arithmetic his gift of a few shillings seems to those who receive it and to those who hear of it a possible source of help in any difficulty. To them it represents a large command of means; and where one has received what, though it be little, is yet, relative to wage, a large sum to be acquired without labour, many will seek more, and with that object will waste their time and be put off their work, or even be tempted to lie and cheat. So social energy is diverted from its proper use. Alms thus given weakens social ties, diminishes the natural relief funds of mutual help, and beggars a neighbour instead of benefiting him. By this argument a clear and well-defined purpose is placed before charity. Charity becomes a science based on social principles and observation. Not to give alms, but to keep alive the saving health of the family, becomes its problem: relief becomes altogether subordinate to this, and institutions or societies are serviceable or the reverse according as they serve or fail to serve this purpose. Not poverty, but distress is the plea for help; not almsgiving, but charity the means. To charity is given a definite social aim, and a desire to use consistently with this aim every method that increasing knowledge and trained ability can devise.

Under such influences as these, joined with better economic conditions, a great reform has been made. The poor-law, however, remains—the modern eleemosyna civica. It now, indeed, absorbs a proportionately lesser amount of the largely increased national income, but, excluding the maintenance of lunatics, it costs Great Britain more than twelve millions a year; and among the lower classes of the poor, directly or indirectly, it serves as a bounty on dependence and is a permanent obstacle to thrift and self-reliance. The number of those who are within the circle of its more immediate attraction is now perhaps, in different parts of the country or different districts in a town, not more than, say, 20% of the population. Upon that population the statistics of a day census would show a pauperism not of 2.63, the percentage of the mean day pauperism on the population in 1908, but of 13.15%; and the percentage would be much greater—twice as large, perhaps—if the total number of those who in some way received poor relief in the course of a year were taken into account. The English poor-law is thus among the lower classes, those most tempted to dependence—say some six or seven millions of the people—a very potent influence definitely antagonistic to the good development of family life, unless it be limited to very narrow proportions; as, for instance, to restricted indoor or institutional relief for the sick, for the aged and infirm, who in extreme old age require special care and nursing, and for the afflicted, for whom no sufficient charitable provision is procurable. As ample experience shows, only on these conditions can poor-law relief be justified from the point of view of charity and the common good. In marked contrast to this opinion is the English movement for Old Age pensions, which came to its first fruition in 1908—a huge charity started on the credit of the state, the extension of which might ultimately involve a cost comparable with that of the army or the navy. Schemes of the kind have been adopted in the Australasian colonies with limitations and safeguards; and they seem likely to develop into a new type of poor-relief organization for the aged and infirm (Report: Royal Commission on Old Age Pensions, Commonwealth of Australia, 1906). In England, partly to meet the demand for better state provision for the aged, the Local Government Board in 1900 urged the boards of guardians to give more adequate outdoor relief to aged deserving people, and laid no stress on the test of destitution, or, in other words, the limitation of relief to what was actually “necessary,” the neglect of which has led to new difficulties. History has proved that demoralization results from the wholesale relief whether of the mass of the citizens, or of the able-bodied, or of the children, and the proposal to limit the endowment to the aged makes no substantial difference. The social results must be similar; but social forces work slowly, and usually only the unanswerable argument of financial bankruptcy suffices to convert a people habituated to dependence, though the inward decay of vitality and character may long before be manifest. Ultimately the distribution of pensions by way of out-door relief, corrupting a far more independent people, is calculated to work a far greater injury than the annona civica. Such an endowment of old age might indeed be justified as part of a system of regulated labour, which, as in earlier times, could not be enforced without some such extraneous help, but it could not be justified otherwise. It is naturally associated, therefore, with socialistic proposals for the regulation of wage.

In the light of the principles of charity, which we have considered historically, we have now to turn to two questions: charity and economics, and charity and socialism.

The object of charity is to render to our neighbour the services and duties of goodwill, friendship and love. To prevent distress