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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Pauperism and Free Trade
(S358ac: 1883)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 2 of the 3 February 1883 issue of the London newspaper The Echo. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S358AC.htm

To the Editor of The Echo.

     Sir,--In adducing the increased cost of Poor Law relief as a ground for maintaining the increase of pauperism, in the face of figures showing a considerable decrease, your correspondents have exposed themselves to an easy refutation. But as an argument is not answered till it is taken at its best, and as your object is no doubt to arrive at the truth of this matter, will you allow me to state a few considerations which lead me to believe that Mr. George's statement of the permanence, if not the increase, of the mass of our pauperism may be quite correct.

     In the first place, I would point out that the statistics of pauperism are most unsatisfactory. They consist only of the number of paupers receiving relief on one day in each year (the 1st of January). It has been estimated that the numbers thus given must be multiplied by 3 1/2 to give the actual number of cases of pauperism in the year; and even allowing for persons relieved twice or many times over, the number of real paupers will be enormously increased. It is true this does not affect the increase or decrease, but it shows that the statistics themselves are most imperfect, and may lead to very erroneous conclusions.

     Coming now to matter more directly affecting the question at issue, I have first to remark that no conclusion can be drawn from the comparison of two picked years, because the numbers of official paupers fluctuate most irregularly. If, instead of choosing 1850 and 1881--which show a considerable decrease--we take 1853 and 1880, we find a considerable increase (798,822 in the former year, and 837,940 in the latter); and if we take 1853 and 1871, we find a much greater increase than the decrease shown by 1850 and 1881. The only instructive course is to take considerable averages, and if from the tables from 1849 to 1880 (now before me, we take the first and the last twelve years, we find no diminution, but a slight increase. Considering the enormous increase of our wealth in these two periods, this result is itself sufficiently startling; but, it is said, population has increased. No doubt; but not so very much, if we take, not the extreme dates, but the middle of the two periods of which I have taken the average--say 1855 and 1874. There are, however, five distinct causes (at least), all of which tend to make the official pauperism less as compared with the real in recent years. Allow me shortly to state these:--

     (1.) The Poor Law has now for a long time been more and more stringently applied, especially as regards out-door relief. Numerous books and reports show this, and thus official paupers are diminished. (2.) Vagrants relieved in the "casual wards" are now not included in the official returns of paupers. Formerly they were, and thus paupers now appear to be less, while they may really be greater. (3.) In all our great cities numbers starve to death annually rather than seek the workhouse, as we all know from the newspaper reports. As our cities have enormously grown in the last thirty years, it is probable that such deaths have increased, and every such death indicates that there are hundreds, or perhaps thousands, who just manage to live, though half-starved, and who, in every respect but official recognition, are paupers. (4.) Private charity has immensely increased, and is far better organised of late years. Thus multitudes are relieved who formerly swelled the ranks of official paupers. (5.) Our great cities and dense suburban populations allow ever-increasing numbers of our people to live, honestly or dishonestly, from hand to mouth, as tramps, vagrants, or thieves. These are really paupers, although only occasionally figuring in the official returns.

     Now, if we combine the whole of these causes tending to make the official records a less and less adequate indication of the real mass of destitution in our country; and if we further consider that beyond all this are whole classes of our population, like the peasants of the West of Ireland and the crofters of Skye and Lewis, living so miserably from hand to mouth that a bad season produces a literal famine, and then remember that even the official records, taken as a fair average, show no signs of a permanent diminution of the number of paupers, we shall, I think, be forced to conclude that the actual amount of want and destitution has probably increased in a greater ratio than population, and this coincidently with an enormous increase of national wealth and a general advance in luxury and refinement which make the fact all the more horrible. The question whether matters might not have been worse if we had not had Free Trade, is a more difficult and a less important one. I would, however, point out that the maximum number of paupers in the official lists was from 1868 to 1871, years which were near the culminating point of that wonderful advance in our commerce and our wealth which are always claimed as the results of Free Trade; and that during the whole period of prosperity from 1862 to 1872 official pauperism was greater than before or since. However this fact may be explained, it affords some justification for the statement that "Free Trade has not diminished Pauperism."

—Yours, &c., Alfred R. Wallace.

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