Fifty Years of “Progress”

A Socialist Examination of a Capitalist Statement

Flights of Fancy
The Daily Chronicle could scarcely find words to give expression to its admiration of the Blue Book recently published by the Local Government Board, wherein, we are told, the great prosperity of the worker since the introduction of Free Trade, is clearly shown. Wages have risen, prices have fallen, and that great social sore, pauperism, has decreased. In fact, after a perusal of the figures we are almost led to believe that within the next few years all the social evils that now afflict us will have been entirely eliminated, almost, that is, unless we happen to be in possession of further facts and figures.

We are informed by the Daily Chronide that since 1849 the percentage of paupers to the population has decreased.

Now the total number of persons in receipt of poor relief during the year 1906-7 was 2,076,316. Every day during the year, taking the average, 25.1 per thousand of the population were in receipt of relief. While there has been a decrease since 1850 in the number of outdoor paupers, the number of indoor paupers has almost doubled. When referring to this question the Press were very careful to avoid giving an explanation of the decrease of outdoor pauperism. The cause was fully explained by “F. C. W.” in the issue of March ’06 SOCIALIST STANDARD, wherein he says

“The Poor Law was further strengthened by the Amendment Act of 1844, but it was not (says the “Encyclopedia Britannica”) until 1867 that the local administration bodies took the matter up with much enthusiasm. The Pauper Inmate Act of 1871, and the Casual Poor Act of 1882, made conditions of relief more onerous by increasing the compulsory stay of vagrants and by other means. Ashcroft and Preston Thomas say in their work ‘The English Poor Law System’ p. 285, ‘The marked increase of indoor paupers (accompanied of course by a still more marked decrease of outdoor paupers until recently) is due to the movement beginning about 1865 in favour of the workhouse principle. It is clear that in the case of this class of paupers (able-bodied adults) it was mainly by the rigid enforcement of the workhouse test that this improvement was secured.’ ”

The Return to Naked Fact
There are now many other ways by which the workhouses are being relieved, such as, for instance, the Church Army and Salvation Army Homes, and Dr. Barnado’s Homes (which boast of having 8,000 children always under its care) and the rest of the 1,800 charitable institutions dispensing funds to the amount of ten million pounds per annum.

When the Pauper Inmate Act and the Casual Poor Act had been in operation some time, there was another large increase in pauperism. The “Twelth Abstract of Labour Statistics” issued by the Board of Trade states that

“on every day throughout the year 1892 the average number of persons in receipt of poor relief was 953,719, this number rising steadily each year with but very slight fluctuation to 1,103,724 in 1906, being an increase not only in the number but also relatively to the increase of population.”

If the Majority Report of the Poor Law Commission is adopted and the suggested alterations in the Poor Law are enacted, then we shall again be told that pauperism is decreasing, while as a matter of fact the relief of the poor will have been transferred from public institutions to private charity, which we are told can be so developed and organised that out-door relief will become unnecessary.

Turning from the question of pauperism our attention is diverted to “the record of rising wages under Free Trade,” as the Daily Chronicle has it.

Two sides to the story
Now it is true that there has been an increase in the rate of money wages, but that is no criterion of an actual rise in wages or of an increase in the purchasing power of the wages received. Turning again to the “Twelfth Abstract of Labour Statistics” we find that since 1895 (the first year for which comparative tables are given) the increase in the retail prices of the necessaries of life, apart from the increase of house rent, which is by far the most important factor in the expenditure of the workers, has kept pace with the increase in the rate of wages, which is in many cases based upon the price paid per hour. But the same publication informs us that the number of hours worked per week have been greatly reduced, to say nothing of the increase of unemployment. So when we take all the facts into consideration we find instead of an increase in wages we have an absolute decrease.

The Daily News makes a very poor attempt to minimise the extent of the unemployed problem by attributing the great increase during 1908 to the engineering and ship-building disputes, and this in spite of the fact that the Board of Trade and Labour Gazette tells us in every issue, that persons on strike or locked out, sick or superannuated, are excluded from the figures.

The health of the workers is the next subject that confronts us. We are reminded that the number of cases arising from such diseases as enteric fever, diptheria, small-pox, etc., have been greatly reduced, in fact some of them have actually been stamped out. If, then, there has been such a large decrease in this class of disease, we must ask the reason for the alarm of the friendly societies at the “enormous increase in the number of applicants for sick pay.”

Unemployment brings Sickness–
The Evening News of June 3rd asks “Are modern conditions of life undermining the general health of the working people of this country ? Mere warnings of medical men,” it continues, “unsupported by statistics, do not count as evidence, but the testimony of the great friendly societies which are in close and constant touch with the workers is a more weighty matter.”

On this question Mr. J. Luther Green, president of the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society, says,

“The matter is most serious and is causing the greatest concern to all friendly societies. . . . The causes of the alarming increase in sickness liabilities are probably to be found in the changed industrial conditions, the constancy of the evil of unemployment, the operation of the Compensation Act, and the increased pace and pressure of life. . . Distress arising from unemployment has been especially noticeable during the past year. Cases have come under the notice of the committee where the sickness has been solely the result of unemployment. Distress is followed by privation and health must of necessity be impaired.”

It appears that while the membership of the above society has increased, since 1903, 12½ per cent., the number of claims for sick pay has increased 24 per cent., and the amount paid in sick benefit by over 33 per cent., in spite of the adoption of more stringent methods to eliminate the fraudulent “invalids.”

But the Hearts of Oak is only one of the many benefit societies, so we must take a broader view of the subject. Reviewing the returns of the 14 leading benefit societies we find an almost corresponding increase in sickness, and we agree with the president of the H.O.B. that the great increase is due to insufficient nourishment and the increased pace and pressure on the life of the worker. Every worker knows that the pace and pressure in the factories, workshops and offices is far greater to-day than it was even a few years ago, while the age at which he is thrown upon the industrial scrap-heap, when his vitality and energy have degenerated, is earlier; and so witnesses the record, in the Blue Book, of the great decrease in the number of persons employed over the age of 65.

Employment Wounds and Death
With the speeding up of machinery and increasing pressure upon the worker grows the the increase of sickness, insanity and the “accidents” upon the industrial field, the number of the latter in 1907 reaching the enormous total of 160,731, being almost double the figure for 1898. The number of fatal “accidents” rose from 3,810 in 1898 to 4,453 in 1907, and the number of non-fatal accidents increased from 79,633 in the former year to 156,278 in the latter ! a total far in excess of the combined British and Boer casualties in the late South African war.

The increasing development of capitalism renders it far more difficult for the worker to raise himself from the ranks of the wage-slaves until now it has become almost an impossibility even in individual cases.

The increase in unemployment and the longer period the worker is in the labour market, makes life ever more insecure. While in employment he is compelled, where possible, to deprive himself and family of many of the necessaries of life in order to accumulate a little to tide over the ever-expected period of “out-o’-work,” an attempt that more often than not ends in failure. In conclusion, then, and taking into consideration all the facts attending the position of the workers, we can safely say that instead of enjoying greater prosperity, their position in society continues on the downward grade, Liberal and Tory reformers notwithstanding. And so their only hope is in the complete change, the Revolution, i.e., Socialism.


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