Attitudes to poor can alter over time

York Press: . .

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.

Comments (7)

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4:09pm Sat 4 Jan 14

CynicaloldGit says...

Attitudes will never change as long as there are newspapers such as the daily mail, sun and express. There should be a law against propaganda of any type. Also there will never be a change till the I'm all right Jack and greed is good philosophy, expounded by Thatcher is refuted by those who have the authority so to do.
Neither will it be expunged till wages are awarded justly...let me explain. When people who cannot work, find work etc....they receive benefits, which, are worked out and awarded on the basis of what one human needs to live, YET, wages are not worked out on that basis, and that is why just about every one in this country is on benefits....top ups of one kind or another to subsidise low wages, (though why we should pay child benefit to any family with an income of more than 30 grand is beyond me). We have a basic wage law that is flouted daily, and the more immigrants we allow entry, (and no I am not a UKIP or BNP voter) the more rogue employers will pay below the min wage, never mind a living wage................
......I could go on, BUT I believe I don't need to because those who agree with me will understand, and those who don't will still believe what I mean, but because of political or business reasons will disregard what I say.....but non can honestly refute what I say.;
Attitudes will never change as long as there are newspapers such as the daily mail, sun and express. There should be a law against propaganda of any type. Also there will never be a change till the I'm all right Jack and greed is good philosophy, expounded by Thatcher is refuted by those who have the authority so to do. Neither will it be expunged till wages are awarded justly...let me explain. When people who cannot work, find work etc....they receive benefits, which, are worked out and awarded on the basis of what one human needs to live, YET, wages are not worked out on that basis, and that is why just about every one in this country is on benefits....top ups of one kind or another to subsidise low wages, (though why we should pay child benefit to any family with an income of more than 30 grand is beyond me). We have a basic wage law that is flouted daily, and the more immigrants we allow entry, (and no I am not a UKIP or BNP voter) the more rogue employers will pay below the min wage, never mind a living wage................ ......I could go on, BUT I believe I don't need to because those who agree with me will understand, and those who don't will still believe what I mean, but because of political or business reasons will disregard what I say.....but non can honestly refute what I say.; CynicaloldGit

6:09pm Sat 4 Jan 14

Lineker's Lad says...

There never was an attitude of I'm alright Jack and greed is good as expounded by Thatcher. The late 1970's was a period when individual enterprise and any aspiration to improve yourself was made difficult by an overvearing socialist government that was dictated to by poweful Trades Unions. The Tory government from 1979 onwards encouraged people to show some enterprise and take responsibilty for themselves. Some people took this to excess; most people at the time were simply content to have the opportunity benefit from their initiative. The view of the Thatcher era repeated in the comment above is the trendy view oft quoted these days usually by people too young to have experienced the 1970's and 1980's.
There never was an attitude of I'm alright Jack and greed is good as expounded by Thatcher. The late 1970's was a period when individual enterprise and any aspiration to improve yourself was made difficult by an overvearing socialist government that was dictated to by poweful Trades Unions. The Tory government from 1979 onwards encouraged people to show some enterprise and take responsibilty for themselves. Some people took this to excess; most people at the time were simply content to have the opportunity benefit from their initiative. The view of the Thatcher era repeated in the comment above is the trendy view oft quoted these days usually by people too young to have experienced the 1970's and 1980's. Lineker's Lad

11:20pm Sat 4 Jan 14

growthorgreed says...

Lineker's Lad wrote:
There never was an attitude of I'm alright Jack and greed is good as expounded by Thatcher. The late 1970's was a period when individual enterprise and any aspiration to improve yourself was made difficult by an overvearing socialist government that was dictated to by poweful Trades Unions. The Tory government from 1979 onwards encouraged people to show some enterprise and take responsibilty for themselves. Some people took this to excess; most people at the time were simply content to have the opportunity benefit from their initiative. The view of the Thatcher era repeated in the comment above is the trendy view oft quoted these days usually by people too young to have experienced the 1970's and 1980's.
I'm sorry to sound rude, and I don't mean to be, but you are completely and utterly wrong in this. I don't think that the first comment is a "trendy view" but one held by the majority of people who understand what happened to the Nation in the Thatcher years.
And yes, I was there.
[quote][p][bold]Lineker's Lad[/bold] wrote: There never was an attitude of I'm alright Jack and greed is good as expounded by Thatcher. The late 1970's was a period when individual enterprise and any aspiration to improve yourself was made difficult by an overvearing socialist government that was dictated to by poweful Trades Unions. The Tory government from 1979 onwards encouraged people to show some enterprise and take responsibilty for themselves. Some people took this to excess; most people at the time were simply content to have the opportunity benefit from their initiative. The view of the Thatcher era repeated in the comment above is the trendy view oft quoted these days usually by people too young to have experienced the 1970's and 1980's.[/p][/quote]I'm sorry to sound rude, and I don't mean to be, but you are completely and utterly wrong in this. I don't think that the first comment is a "trendy view" but one held by the majority of people who understand what happened to the Nation in the Thatcher years. And yes, I was there. growthorgreed

8:24am Sun 5 Jan 14

Lineker's Lad says...

I'd beinterested to hear what you felt happened to the nation during the Thatcher years. I would accept that some events were an extreme reaction to what had happened under the Labour government of 1974-1979 but an extreme reaction was required to address the position the country was in. If people believe that the country was in a mess as a result of Gordon Brown's administration, they can have no comprehension of what things were like in 1979. I would add that I do not write this as a card carrying Tory; in my view there isn't a politician in the country that is worthy of my vote and I regard the lot of them as self serving opportunists without a principle between them.
I'd beinterested to hear what you felt happened to the nation during the Thatcher years. I would accept that some events were an extreme reaction to what had happened under the Labour government of 1974-1979 but an extreme reaction was required to address the position the country was in. If people believe that the country was in a mess as a result of Gordon Brown's administration, they can have no comprehension of what things were like in 1979. I would add that I do not write this as a card carrying Tory; in my view there isn't a politician in the country that is worthy of my vote and I regard the lot of them as self serving opportunists without a principle between them. Lineker's Lad

8:16pm Sun 5 Jan 14

Seadog says...

To get back to the original letter ... Mark Cousins does indeed raise some very interesting (and, at least by the normal standards of local journalism) quite searching and original questions regarding pre- (and post) Reformation attitudes to the matter in hand. I do hope we see some considered answers in this column from proper theologians and/or professional historians of the Late Medieval / Early Modern era.
To get back to the original letter ... Mark Cousins does indeed raise some very interesting (and, at least by the normal standards of local journalism) quite searching and original questions regarding pre- (and post) Reformation attitudes to the matter in hand. I do hope we see some considered answers in this column from proper theologians and/or professional historians of the Late Medieval / Early Modern era. Seadog

1:08pm Mon 6 Jan 14

York Fox says...

I don't believe the Reformation per se is the critical reason for any change in the treatment of the poor. It's use to me is only as a marker of time, as it is clear that in the period following the reformation, what we now know as capitalism began to develop.

Prior to this, in a feudal system, the opportunity for self-betterment was so limited as to be almost impossible. The creeping forward of the capitalist structure, of business and money, allowed people to break out from social, political and economic boundaries. At that point charity became something that could be applied to oneself. Now I'm not saying it became easy, but it did become possible to escape a life of poverty after the reformation, and I think this changed the way people thought of poverty.

As the author states, there has always been a 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor, and society has always made a judgement. Pre-reformation the deserving poor were the pious, loyal and needy. In modern times the deserving poor are those that do the best with what they have and try to better their situation. The undeserving poor are those that choose to take charity rather than use the skills and abilities they have to try better themselves: those that sit at home, happy to claim (take charity) but unhappy to train, study or look for work; those that will not move to find gainful employment when really there is nothing stopping them; those who feel they are entitled to state charity when they have not contributed to the state fund.
I don't believe the Reformation per se is the critical reason for any change in the treatment of the poor. It's use to me is only as a marker of time, as it is clear that in the period following the reformation, what we now know as capitalism began to develop. Prior to this, in a feudal system, the opportunity for self-betterment was so limited as to be almost impossible. The creeping forward of the capitalist structure, of business and money, allowed people to break out from social, political and economic boundaries. At that point charity became something that could be applied to oneself. Now I'm not saying it became easy, but it did become possible to escape a life of poverty after the reformation, and I think this changed the way people thought of poverty. As the author states, there has always been a 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor, and society has always made a judgement. Pre-reformation the deserving poor were the pious, loyal and needy. In modern times the deserving poor are those that do the best with what they have and try to better their situation. The undeserving poor are those that choose to take charity rather than use the skills and abilities they have to try better themselves: those that sit at home, happy to claim (take charity) but unhappy to train, study or look for work; those that will not move to find gainful employment when really there is nothing stopping them; those who feel they are entitled to state charity when they have not contributed to the state fund. York Fox

1:21pm Mon 6 Jan 14

York Fox says...

And Lineker's Lad, I agree, the Thatcher years were a return to the paradigm of self-betterment following the first period in the entire history of humanity where it had been extinguished - during the failed socialist/communist movement of the early 20th century.

What most socialists often choose to ignore is that right or left, the desired end result is the same - for everyone to be wealthy, healthy and good.

The only place they differ is in how this is to be achieved, in the left's case, through grouping and sharing of resources. In the right's case it is for the resources and wealth to filter down from business to the bottom. The right simply believe that this ethos robs humanity of the desire to gain these resources in the first place.

When we examine the history of the capitalist democracies of the right and the socialist dictatorships of the left, it is surely clear where both increased wealth, health and freedom are to be found.
And Lineker's Lad, I agree, the Thatcher years were a return to the paradigm of self-betterment following the first period in the entire history of humanity where it had been extinguished - during the failed socialist/communist movement of the early 20th century. What most socialists often choose to ignore is that right or left, the desired end result is the same - for everyone to be wealthy, healthy and good. The only place they differ is in how this is to be achieved, in the left's case, through grouping and sharing of resources. In the right's case it is for the resources and wealth to filter down from business to the bottom. The right simply believe that this ethos robs humanity of the desire to gain these resources in the first place. When we examine the history of the capitalist democracies of the right and the socialist dictatorships of the left, it is surely clear where both increased wealth, health and freedom are to be found. York Fox

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