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The Poor Law

Socialism and Social Reforms

 It is not only the workers who, through Trade Union action, endeavour to place certain limits upon their exploitation by the capitalists. The State, which to-day exists for the purpose of preserving capitalism, is also compelled in the course of its activities to take such steps.

 In the early days of the nineteenth century, when the modern factory system was still struggling with earlier methods of production (based on handicraft in its later phases), the workers were able to reap some slight advantage from the divisions among the exploiting class.

Old-Age Pensions: A Typical Reform

At the time that the OLD AGE pension measure was passed by Parliament it was pointed out in this journal that its chief purpose was to save the rates. It was to encourage old people to starve outside the workhouse rather than go in and be kept at treble the cost by the ratepayers. Evidence of this fact has been repeatedly given, and to-day, owing to the enormous increase in the cost of living, the old-age pensioners are dying off like flies. Such paragraphs as the following speak eloquently of this :

    "'LIFE ON 1s. 6d. A WEEK.”
      "'If they can live on Is. 6d. a week each and don't get starved, a good many of us eat too much,' said the coroner at the inquest on a Bethnal-green woman aged 70. She and her aged husband had lived on the latter's a old-age pension of 5s., out of which 2s. was paid in rent. Occasionally the man earned an odd 6d. The doctor said that death was not accelerated by want."

Can The Means Test Be Abolished?

Ever since 1931, when a large number of unemployed were brought under what is known as the "Means Test", this has been a burning question in British politics. All of the opposition candidates at the November General Election promised, in more or less guarded fashion, to abolish the test, although we are entitled to wonder whether their promises mean quite what the electors thought they meant.

Before going into that question further, it will be useful to explain what is the means test--or rather, what are the several means tests applied by the Government in connection with unemployment pay, Public Assistance, and Old-Age Non- contributory pensions.

Care, or Couldn’t Care Less?

Care is a fairly unambiguous word: to look after, to feel affection, and concern for somebody or something. A recent inquiry by the Scottish Parliament into care begins with the opening statement: ‘One test of the morality of a society is how it treats its elderly’. How do you determine morality in a society that has seen ruling class consent to brutal dictatorships and the mass slaughter and starvation of millions upon millions of our fellow human beings?

Ours is a long history. In ancient societies the elderly were the chief sources of knowledge: Where was the best hunting to be found? What plants cured what sickness? How to make the tools to enable the tribe’s survival. This led to various forms of Ancestor Worship. In China the practice of veneration for the wisdom of the elders dates back long before 1000 BC. And in Polynesian societies, the outlook is one of reverence for the elderly and the expectation of help and guidance; although it doesn’t involve worship.

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