A Return To The New Poor Law?

The New Poor Law was an abomination, but it took nearly 150 years for it to be abolished. For those of you for whom GCSE History is a distant memory, it required the indigent and the unemployed to choose between work at any wage or the workhouse. Eventually reformers succeeded in making the public provision of assistance a matter of right and the unemployed were no longer regarded as any less deserving as other members of society. Is that all about to change?

Last week we saw the establishment of a new class of ‘undeserving poor’, a new underclass, those with large families living on benefit. Their benefit is about to be slashed. They face an appalling future.

There are huge anomalies in the benefits system. Much of it is not fit for purpose and been in need of urgent reform for a very long time. It is totally unacceptable to make people suffer because of the gross negligence of our legislators – and lack of pressure from those who should know better.

When politicians start using words like ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, I worry. The language may have been ill-chosen, but it probably reveals a heartfelt belief. The massive cuts in spending that are being proposed are going to drive many more people into poverty. Something they really don’t deserve.

Britain is a divided nation as this week’s EHRC report shows. 13.5 million people live below the poverty line and of that figure 3.8 million are children. It would appear that we have become insensitive to the human costs of this tragedy, and our moral sentiments have been so corrupted that we have lost the will to do anything about it.

The lesson that with wealth comes responsibility needs to be learned again. The pain of any cuts should be felt by those that have rather than those that have nothing.

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