Attitudes to poor can alter over time
FOLLOWING Matthew Laverack’s letter (The Press, January 2) in response to Gavin Aitchison’s column, it is worth highlighting that improvement in society is not an upwardly linear progression.
Attitudes can alter over time.
In pre-Reformation times poverty was not regarded as a crime but as something that could strike anybody at anytime, rather like illness.
The poor were regarded with compassion, reinforced by religious belief and biblical exhortation, in particular the Seven Works of Corporal Mercy.
The prevailing attitude changed post-Reformation to one of suspicion and moral condemnation of the poor. Those that were considered feckless attracted a grudging response.
As society has “advanced” the poor, both needy and otherwise, have been increasingly supported out of taxation, locally in the case of the workhouses, and more recently out of general taxation.
As this is compulsory it causes resentment, particularly as the charitable urge has remained and is still a part of the financial arrangements of a lot of people.
While no one would advocate a return to the poor being imprisoned (workhouses), or indeed the grinding poverty of many during the Recession of the inter-war years, it is difficult to deny that we are seeing some return to medieval approach of people having to rely on charitable handouts or “dole”, although this should be mitigated against state welfare.
Then, as now, there was a resistance to supporting those seen as undeserving and a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor has always been made.
Mark Cousins, Bellhouse Way, York.
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