The Church and Slums
Some eighteen months ago, public attention was focussed on the Church’s activities as ground landlords of large estates, notably one at Paddington, and criticism was very outspoken as to the state of the property. (See Daily Herald, January 23rd, 1933, and Socialist Standard, June, 1933.)
Speaking of the Church’s attitude to the matter at that time, Mr. G. W. Currie, of the Westminster Survey Group, said:
“For three years past every effort has been used to stir the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to take some action in their capacity as ground landlords. It is true they have indicated their willingness to fall in with any improvement scheme that may be started, but nothing has been done.” (Daily Herald, January 23rd, 1933.)
Apparently since then, some move has been made, perhaps as a result of “misdirected criticism” and “misrepresentation of motive” (i.e., as a result of the limelight), together with “falling in with a scheme” started by someone else, for we learn from the Daily Chronicle (January 19th, 1934) that “improvements are put in hand to the tune of £500,000,” and Mr. Geo. Middleton, First Church Estates Commissioner, in a White Paper issued by the Commissioner, says:
“The Commissioners are not slum landlords. They are good and public spirited landlords. They have never pretended that they do not possess property ‘no longer satisfactory for family occupation,’ but they are always reviewing the state of property in their hands.” (Daily Chronicle, ibid.)
That apathy describes the Church’s attitude to all social activities for centuries. In this case they expect 3 per cent. on their outlay, and any more to come, glad of it.
Let Mr. Middleton continue from his White Paper: —
“Their London reconditioning scheme now on hand up to £500,000, is not an act of philanthropy, but an investment of capital in acceptance of the responsibilities of good and enlightened ownership.”
And, we learn, “They cannot look for a return of more than 3 per cent.”
So we see that they are out on the search for profit, like their patrons, the capitalists, and the grudging nature of the “improvements” they are undertaking can be seen from this further quotation from their White Paper.
“While in the past we have been able to help Public Utility Societies by the investment of their money, or by offering sites on most favourable terms, we cannot at present entertain applications for help of this kind because of the large direct commitments they are undertaking.”
The Church, like other property owners, is not a philanthropic body, but exists as regards its income from property upon the exploitation of the workers; as such it upholds the present system. Let any major labour issue crop up, and the Church will usually be found siding with the masters, and any faith or trust imposed on them is, from a working-class standpoint, misplaced. Rather should the workers get to understand their position and organise for Socialism and the abolition of poverty.
C. V. R.