Methods of social advance; short studies in social practice by various authors online

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method of meeting current expenditure there is no point of
view from which it can be excused, and it may be doubted
whether even the publican has done much more than the
pawnbroker to add to the mass of chronic poverty. But for
his untimely assistance, many would have been forced early in
life to learn the art of saving for bad times, and would be
in a position of independence, who now pass every winter in
piling up a burden of debt for the summer.

Now the elementary lesson of averaging an annual income
which is paid weekly, and equalising it over the year, is one
which might be taught as easily as any other lesson in
arithmetic ; and, if taught in its proper context as a part of
housekeeping, would be remembered longer than many a less
practical sum. As an aid to the practical carrying out of the
lesson in real life, nothing more effective than the savings-bank
has as yet been devised for the labouring class, where the
need is most strong for this provision for bad times. In some
of the more highly organised trades the need is better met by
effecting what is practically an insurance through the medium
of a Trade Union. The advantage of this lies in the fact that
a miscalculation of the period of out-of-work becomes less
serious. The man who has sufficient in the savings-bank to
meet four weeks is in great difficulties if the slack time lasts
longer; while the man who is insured in the Union will
probably continue to receive some, if only a reduced, benefit.

Against the contingency of ill-health, which is far more
incalculable than out-of-work, provision by insurance is more
universal ; and but for our system of Poor Belief there would


be few working-class households in England where the ' club
money ' was not a regular item of weekly or monthly expendi-
ture. The sick club to replace the man's earnings, and the
provident dispensary to provide medical treatment for the
family, are indispensable as instruments for the equalising of
income and improving the sufficiency of wages.

The careful housewife, then, if she handles the whole
income, will have a certain number of first charges to make
upon it weekly before she can proceed to her marketing.
There will be the payment necessary to provide for slack
times, which may be considerable in any of the more definitely
season trades, such as building ; and if done by means of the
Savings Bank may amount to 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. Much
less will suffice as contribution to a Union giving out-of-work
benefit, 7^d. a week being about the average contribution
taking all trade unions together, and one which covers
various other benefits as well. The payment to the Friendly
Society will vary according to the standing of the Society and
the amount of benefit to be received, but 6d. a week for that
and 4d. a week for the family in the Provident Dispensary is
a liberal allowance. When old age benefits have been properly
organised another Qd. a week will make provision for old age
for both man and wife ; and the family will then be secure
against all the ordinary contingencies of life. And if it is
thought that these charges are too burdensome it must be
remembered that though the unwise housekeeper will dispense
with them she will probably substitute others which will be
much more burdensome; the payments necessary to take
Sunday clothing out of pawn, payments to the tallyman and
to the proprietor of hired furniture, Is. off the back rent, and
6d. to an importunate creditor, will reduce the weekly income
far more than the modest but regular demands of real fore-
sight ; while a few weeks of illness or out of work ^provided
for may drag the family to a depth of debt and misery from
which it will never wholly recover.

Other first charges will be the rent and possibly pocket


money and journey money for the man, and then begins the
art of a wise expenditure of the balance.

With regard to food the first and best economy will lie in
the choice of a properly nourishing diet. But it is to be
feared that the tradition of a wise diet has been largely lost,
at any rate in the towns ; and in so far as this is the case it
will have to be definitely learned again as a branch of the art
of housekeeping. The immensely greater variety of food
offered to the people, together with greater facilities of
expenditure, has naturally tempted them away from the
monotony of what was perhaps a more nutritious diet ; with the
result that many of them now, when they drift into poverty,
rely for their staple food upon articles which should be merely

As illustrating this greater variety open to even the poorest
wage-earners to-day, I may refer to two budgets which I have
already quoted elsewhere. The first is that of an agricultural
labourer in Monmouth, taken from Sir F. Eden's ' State of the
Poor ' (1797), from which it appears that of the 25. a year
which the man says he receives, or the 30. 14s. which he
expends, no less than 23. 8s. goes in bread alone. Of his
total expenditure, 89 per cent, goes in food, and his articles
of food fall under six headings only. With this compare
one of the budgets from the collection made by the Economic
Club, that of an agricultural labourer living in Somerset.
Out of an income of 15s. a week available for housekeeping,
nearly 5s. a week is in excess of actual expenditure. Of this
expenditure only 48 per cent, is spent on food, and this food
is of no less than fifteen kinds.

Of course the greater variety is all to the good, so long as
the temptation is resisted to let the more nutritious food drop
out in favour of something more tasty. But it demands
greater skill in selection and buying, and over and over again
we hear, especially from those who work amongst school
children, that they get enough to eat, but of the wrong sort


that the fault lies not in quantity, but in quality. And un-
fortunately it is an evil which tends to perpetuate itself.
Children who have become accustomed to a wrong diet are
only too likely to continue it through life, and to hand it on
to the next generation, unless decided steps are taken to
break the tradition and to counteract the temptation by
definite teaching.

The next step lies in wise marketing, and in order to this
it is necessary that there should be a good supply of whole-
some food forthcoming at moderate prices. With regard to
most articles of food there is in the towns little to complain of
now ; perhaps the one exception, certainly the most impor-
tant, is the milk supply. In some towns the municipal
authorities are taking up the question with great vigour ; and
in Copenhagen and New York they are said to be successful
in securing that the milk offered for sale is unadulterated
and untainted (see appendix in Eowntree's ' Poverty,' and an
article on the milk supply in the August number of the New
Liberal Review). But it probably remains for the Co-operative
Society to add this to the number of problems for which it
has already found solution. Already the larger stores are
undertaking to distribute milk to their members, .and may
probably be trusted to secure its purity.

But even with good supplies at hand, there are in the
towns two great temptations, cheapness on the one hand, and
credit on the other, which the housewife has to learn to resist;
to be willing to pay a good cash price for a good article is no
mean test of a true economy. A woman with a special talent
for marketing may no doubt trust herself to buy cheap ; in
the London markets mosfc frequented by the working classes
good food may be bought at extraordinarily low prices by any-
one really skilled in choosing. But the buyer who is less
skilled or wise may suffer at the hands of a plausible sales-
man, or be unable to resist the over-ripe fruit or half-rotten
fish which is going for ' next to nothing.' Nevertheless, the


wage-earning consumer benefits on the whole very greatly by
a process analogous to the ' dumping ' said to be practised in
our markets by the foreigner. The surplus of supplies which
cannot be sold out at a high price to West-end customers are
sold far below cost price in the people's markets, or on the
costers' barrows ; a process which pays the seller better than
lowering the price to his wealthy customers or losing the
surplus altogether.

But what is really important for the mass of the consumers
is not so much the chance of getting a very good bargain,
accompanied by the risk of unwholesome food, as the certainty
of getting good articles at a fair price. And even when every
facility is present the opportunity may be lost, if, as so often
happens, the housewife cannot resist the attractions of credit,
and does the bulk of her shopping at the general shop. These
general shops are largely responsible for the ' insufficiency ' of
wages ; they are very ' handy,' that is, shopping can be done
there at a minimum of trouble ; they are used to selling in
minute quantities ; and they are so numerous, and competi-
tion with larger shops is so difficult, that they have to be
lavish with credit. But even allowing for the fact that they
are constantly failing, changing hands, and swallowing up new
capital, it is inevitable that their prices should be high in
comparison with the value of their goods. They can them-
selves only buy in small quantities, for they have seldom any
storage room to speak of ; they sell in diminutive quantities ;
they stand out of their money till it suits the customer to
pay; and they have to cover the risk of considerable bad
debts. The following list of the stock with which one of these
shops was started in London is interesting as showing the
sort of articles in demand :

Streaky at l\d. and fat end at 6^d., cheese at 6d., marga-
rine at 4Jd., butter at lid., tea at Is. Id. and Is. 3d., half-
hundred eggs at 7s. 3d. the 100 ; broken biscuits, ' German,'
at 5d., beef -at 6d. 14 yellow (? soap) at Is. 8d., ' Colman,'


white pepper, salt, ' unscented,' soda, blue, Hudson's, Zebra,
jam, rice, cabb. (?), starch, egg-powder, baking-powder,
new bread, allsorts, toffee, mixed drops, vanilla, gas oil,

Now, it is clear that the housewife can, after a fashion, do
almost the whole of her provisioning here, and if once she has
got into debt she will be expected to do so. But how far
from economical her shopping will be may be gathered from
the fact that this particular shop is expected to provide from
its profits the entire maintenance of a mother and four sturdy
little boys, as well as pay a considerable rent. Under such
circumstances it may almost be said that wages are spent at
a maximum disadvantage.

It would seem that any general improvement in household
economy must bring with it the gradual disappearance of the
general shop. There are those who would think this greatly
to be deprecated ; and there is no doubt that the general shop
is largely a resource for people who are rather helpless. Very
often it is not expected to do more than supplement earnings
which would otherwise be inadequate, and it provides light
work for many who are incapacitated for anything more
arduous. But that it does so at the expense of others, who
may be even worse off, was strikingly illustrated in a case
where a charitable agency made an allowance of 5s. a week to
one needy family, in tickets, to be used at a shop kept by
another needy family, for whom it wished to secure custom.
The first needy family protested after a time on the ground
that not only did they get small value for the 5s., but the
goods purchased were sometimes not eatable ; so the allowance
was stopped, and the ingenious contrivance for making one 5s.
serve for two families broke down.

But if the general shop is doomed, by what is it to be
replaced ? To some extent its place is already being taken by
the large grocery stores which enterprising firms are now
planting down in working-class quarters ; and it is possible
that in some towns, especially in the South of England, these


will manage to secure the field and retain it. The large scale
upon which they work and advertise, and the brightness of
their shops and shop windows, have already won them con-
siderable popularity. But there is always great danger that
even the best of them will be driven by competition to
questionable methods of maintaining a profit on low prices ;
and groceries seem to lend themselves peculiarly well to
questionable methods. There is one tea in the market bring-
ing a fair price which has won immense popularity through
ingenious advertisement, and which is said by experts to be
worth only a few pence the pound.

The best substitute for the general shop is doubtless that
discovered by the wage-earners themselves the Co-operative
Store ; and in the North of England its assistance to them in
making the most of their earnings is great. For some reason
it does not flourish to the same extent in the South country,
and in London, with few exceptions, not at all ; partly, no
doubt, this is because the Londoner clings to credit, and one
of the great merits of the true Co-operative Store is to admit
no credit, and partly again it is said that the London working
men have less mutual confidence, are more suspicious of one
another, than in the North.

The method of the Co-operative Society is too well-known
to need long description. It does not aim at underselling the
ordinary tradesmen, but it does aim at providing good articles
at fair prices, and the profit made at those prices is returned
to members of the Society in the form of a dividend on what
they have spent. In this way the Society acts as an automatic
saving agency for the purchasers, and instead of running into
debt as she buys the housewife is accumulating a sum of
money which can be turned to account later on. Just how
the system works in the particular case may be illustrated
by the following account sent me by a North Country
friend :

'My washerwoman, a widow with four children, and a
weekly income of 1., has pulled herself and her family


together well since her drunken husband's death. She spends
weekly at the E. Co-operative Store :

Groceries, including baking flour . . .080

Milk . . .. . . .. . 010

Bread, about . . . . . . . 10

Meat . . . ... . . . 026

She reckons thus to spend ahout 8. a quarter at the stores, and
gets a dividend of 2s. 9d. = l. 2s., which she always spends in
coal. She does not get her coals at the stores, having " always dealt
with so and so," and she believes gets them cheaper. She
buys her boots and clothes at the stores, and thinks she gets
them strongest and best there. A small neighbouring shop
where she gets a little butter occasionally regulates her prices
by the stores. She hears occasionally her neighbours say the
"beefsteak is dear at the stores," or "butter is a penny more,"
but she has no complaints. She thinks "you get good stuff."
Her boy works at the stores. He got taken on because he
was a widow's son, and she a member, and that sort of con-
sideration is often shown to members.'

A member of the same stores, who is active in the manage-
ment, writes : ' The average dividend in the North of England
is 2s. 6d. in the pound, in the South it is Is. 6d. ; of course
it is possible to purchase some goods cheaper than at a
Co-operative Society, but taking quality into consideration,
along with the average weekly purchases of a family, I believe
it is a saving of at least 10 per cent. In Sunderland an
experiment has been carried on for more than a year, of
trying to reach the poorest of the poor. Shops have been
opened in the slums, where articles of the best quality are
being sold in pennyworths ; so far they are a great success, and
it shows that it is possible for societies to sell pure food in small
quantities, and also that the very poor can purchase pure food
at a cheaper rate than what they have previously paid for
much inferior articles.'

In answer to the question whether a working man's wife


can get practically everything she wants at the local store he
writes :

* This depends upon whether the store is a large or a small
one. There are many trades that a small society cannot carry
on profitably, but most large societies supply almost every-
thing except fish and fresh vegetables ; only a few have as yet
commenced dealing in these. In some societies there is an
arrangement by which they take the surplus stock of vegetables
grown by the farm-labourers in the out districts surrounding
the store .... Out of some 1700 societies I only know of
two that deal in alcoholic drink, and these two are small ones,'

A considerable amount of the dividends so easily acquired
by the members of Co-operative Societies is allowed by them to
accumulate instead of being drawn out, and so the wage-
earner becomes in his degree a capitalist. * The profits of the
retail stores last year amounted to 8,682,734, and as the
share-capital increased by 1,200,991, it is safe to say that
1,150,000 of this was dividend, the difference being the
amount invested by new members. Another large portion is
spent upon clothing and furniture, articles which cannot be
purchased out of the ordinary weekly wages. Then, again,
many members use their dividends to pay off the principal and
interest of money borrowed from the Society for the purpose
of building houses for themselves. Six and a half millions
of money has been lent to members upon 2,900 houses in this
way ; the interest charged is 4-J per cent., this and a portion
of the principal is paid quarterly.'

Here we see how the wage-earners are through their co-
operation solving the problems, not only of supplying them-
selves with food, but also with the more difficult necessaries
of clothing anfl housing. That the housewife should be
enabled to meet the heavy demands of boots or clothing or
coal out of the money she saves by not dealing at the general
shop is no small gain ; that her husband should be enabled
by his connection with the Society to build himself a house is



still more striking. By this method of expenditure, which
builds up the family fortunes on a solid basis of thrift, the
wage-earner is not only keeping clear of debt and getting the
best return for his wages, he is also gradually diminishing
future claims upon those wages, until the time comes when
he finds himself living rent free in his own house. As a well-
tried and successful means of improving the position of the
wage-earners, the Co-operative movement ranks with that of
the Friendly Societies; and though good housekeeping is
possible without the aid of a Co-operative Society, it can
hardly be so straightforward and simple as with it.

H. B.



No apology is required for bringing before a special meeting
of the Council of the Charity Organisation Society the
question of the separate payment of rates. The Society has
on more than one occasion taken an active part in promoting
the better housing of the working classes, both in connection
with the introduction of the first Artisan Dwellings Act and
the establishment of the Mansion House Council on the
Dwellings of the Poor, and on other occasions. The question
of the separate payment of rates is closely related to the
dwellings question ; and it is one out of several subjects in
regard to which reforms might be made which might lead
to a greater feeling of personal and social responsibility on
the part of many members of the community. Those
who are acquainted with the condition of the dependent
classes will readily appreciate how important a factor this is
in relation to the prevention of distress and the improve-
ment of the condition of the poor. Large rates are also a
heavy tax on the working classes, the ultimate incidence of
which they often fail to realise. It was from this point of
view that the subject was referred to in a letter addressed to
the Times last winter, from which I make the following
quotation :

And we should not oppress the people with taxation. In some
districts this is increasing out of all proportion to the increase
either of population or of rateable value. Thus in three boroughs

L 2



in different parts of London the increase per cent, between
1890-91 and 1899-1900 is as follows :

Total Rates

Rateable Value


St. Pancras ...

+ 34-2
+ 52-7
+ 66-7

+ 13-0
+ 14-6
+ 21-2

+ 0-4
+ 1-2
+ 10-2

This represents in Camberwell an increase of 219,694 on the
assessment and of 210,682 on the annual expenditure. In West
Ham, with an increase of 47*1 per cent, on the rateable value, the
increase of expenditure on ' the relief of the poor and purposes
connected therewith ' between 1891 and 1900 has been 102 per

These large additions to the rates combined with rising assess-
ments are indeed a grave form of economic oppression. And how
they are raising rentals and pushing industries to other districts the
people do not realise. They forget that, as increased duties are as
far as possible passed on to the consumer, so an increase of Is. in
the pound in the rate represents usually an increase of at least %d.
or 3d. a week on a 5s. rental. The remedy lies largely in the
collection of the rates from the individual occupant. An increase
in the rates will then be expressed definitely as the equivalent of
so many pence collected periodically by, or on behalf of, the rate
collector. And a sense of responsibility, one of the first safe-
guards for the good use of means and so against distress, will
thus be created.

We know that responsibilities educate people, and that
those who shirk responsibilities become uncivilised, like the
men who become apes according to Charles Kingsley's
theory of inverted Darwinianism. And the economic
symbol of civic responsibility is the rate the financial
sacrifice which, under legal obligation, each man makes to
remain a member of the community and to promote its
common good. To the richer man the amount of the rate
may stand for little. To the poorer man it may represent
a not inconsiderable deduction from a sparse income. Of


the two the poorer man, therefore, may prove the more
scrutinising and careful critic.

It is because a large number of the poorer people pay no
rates directly, and do not know what rates they pay indirectly,
and hold the civic franchise without realising its responsi-
bilities, that this question of the separate payment of rates
is raised.

The process named ' compounding ' is recognised and
legalised by the Poor Eate Assessment and Collection Act
1869, and it has since been extended to other rates by other
Acts. 1 By the Act of 1869 the owner of hereditaments, the
rateable value of which does not exceed 20 in the metropolis,
13 in Liverpool, and 10 in Manchester and Birmingham,
may agree with the overseers to be liable for the poor rate,
payable in respect of them for any term not less than one
year, and to pay the poor rate whether his houses or tene-
ments are occupied or not. The agreement has to be
approved by the Vestry, now in London the Borough
Council, and the owner receives as his commission an abate-
ment of not more than 25 per cent, on the rate which he has
to levy.

By Section 4 of the Act the Vestry may compel the
owner to compound, allowing him an abatement of 15 per
cent., and if he undertakes to pay the rate for tenements
occupied and unoccupied alike, an additional abatement
of not more than 15 per cent.

The owner has to furnish a list of all the occupiers, and the
overseer in making out the poor rate has to enter in the
' occupiers' ' column the name of every occupier, whether
there is compounding or not. The payment of the rate by
the owner is deemed a constructive payment of the rate by
the occupier; and the liability of the occupier remains
intact. If the owner does not pay he is liable to distraint,
and in his default the goods of the occupier are liable ' to be
distrained and sold for payment of such rates ... at any

1 The method had been previously legalised by 59 Geo. III., c. 12 (1819).


time while such rates remain unpaid by the owner.' Legally,
therefore, we do not recognise a non-ratepaying occupier ;
we recognise only a landlord collector of occupiers' rates.

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Online LibraryUnknownMethods of social advance; short studies in social practice by various authors → online text (page 12 of 16)