An Englishman’s Home
If we were to give from the pages of “Capital” one of the reports presented by the poor law-officers as depicting the terrible conditions under which a portion o£ the working class eke out an existence, we should immediately be told that the report was given forty or fifty years ago, and that since then things have changed very considerably; that the position of the working class has been, vastly improved, while housing accommodation and sanitary conditions are far superior to what they were then. And yet in the salubrious neighbourhood of Finsbury Park, situated in “merrie” Islington, we have slums which were described by one of the poor law officials as a “disgrace to civilisation.” The following is an extract from the report presented by Dr. Bulger, Medical Officer of Health, on the state of “furnished rooms” in Campbell Road, before the Islington Board of Guardians in April of the current year.
The officer says the “furnished” rooms in Campbell Road can be divided into the following classes : (1) clean, (2) dirty, (3) filthy and verminous. “In all classes the ‘furniture’ consists of a broken chair, a broken table, and a straw mattress on an old iron bedstead. In some rooms the mattress is dirty and verminous, and, unfortunately, it has been my misfortune to have attended some confinements under such conditions. … In some cases there is not room to stand between the bed and the wall, and in my opinion the washhouses should not be let as furnished rooms. In none of the furnished rooms can I see the ordinary utensils necessary for a bedroom. … In many rooms there is serious overcrowding, and in many cases danger to life and limbs in going up and down the awful stairs. For instance, No. —, as seen to-day, is a disgrace not only to the parish of Islington, but to civilisation. I should advise the Guardians to see it as it is now, but beware of the stairs.”
Mr. Edmonds, the Superintending Relieving Officer, also reported and gave the following figures : “(a) Front room ; eight persons and a dead child ; oldest girl eighteen years of age. (b) First floor back ; (in July 1908) nine persons. (c) Top front; nine persons (left), (d) Top front; seven persons, wife about to be confined, (e) Top back; six persons, wife about to be confined.”
And yet we are told that some of the “homes” consisting of “a broken chair, a broken table, and a straw mattress on an old iron bedstead” were clean ! But it is such conditions as these that beget drunkenness. Can we wonder at these people flocking to the brilliantly lit and cheerful looking gin palaces in preference to staying in the hellish surroundings of their hovels ?
And what will the authorities do ? The most they can do is to condemn the property. The inhabitants will probably be turned out, only to go further afield to again live nine or ten in a room, with their broken chair and table, and straw mattress on an old iron bedstead—their poverty preventing them from improving their condition by seeking larger and better housing accommodation, while unemployment, now admitted by the Poor Law Committee in the majority report, to be inherent in the present system of society, continues to drive the workers down to these vile conditions.
And what remedy have the board of Guardians, or any of the political parties outside the Socialist Party, for this terrible state of things ? Absolutely none ! Poverty and unemployment are due to private ownership in the means of life and will continue until the workers organise on the basis of the class struggle, seize control of the political machinery and wield it in their own interest. The only organisation that is working consistently and uncompromisingly toward that end, never having deviated from that course, is the Socialist Party of Great Britain, whose object is the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery by the establishment of a system of society based on the common ownership of the means of life. This only can abolish unemployment and poverty, and all their concomitant evils.
H. A. YOUNG