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   Chapter 4 DESTITUTION AND CRIME.

Crime and Its Causes By William Douglas Morrison Characters: 65239

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Under this heading I shall discuss some of the more important social factors which either directly or indirectly tend to produce crime. It will be impossible to discuss them all. The action of society upon the individual is so complex, its effects are so varied, in many instances so impalpable, that we must content ourselves with a survey of those social phenomena which are most generally credited with leading up to acts of delinquency.

It is very commonly believed that destitution is a powerful factor in the production of crime; we shall therefore start upon this inquiry by considering the extent to which destitution is responsible for offences against person and property. A definition of what is meant by destitution will assist in clearing the ground. It is a definition which is not at all difficult to formulate; one destitute person is remarkably like another, and what applies to one applies with a considerable degree of accuracy to all. We shall, therefore, define a destitute person as a person who is without house or home, who has no work, who is able and willing to work but can get none, and has nothing but starvation staring him in the face. Is any serious amount of crime due to the desperation of people in a position such as this? In order to answer this question it is necessary, in the first place, to ask what kind of crime such persons will be most likely to commit. It is most improbable that they will be crimes against the person, such as homicide or assault; it will not be drunkenness, because, on the assumption of their destitution, they will possess no money to spend. In short, the offences a person in a state of destitution is most likely to commit are begging and theft. What proportion of the total volume of crime is due to these two offense? This is the first question we shall have to answer. The second is, to what extent are begging and theft the results of destitution? An adequate elucidation of these two points will supply a satisfactory explanation of the part played by destitution in the production of crime.

The total number of cases tried in England and Wales either summarily or on indictment during the year 1887-88 amounted to 726,698. Out of this total eight per cent. were cases of offences against property excluding cases of malicious damage, and seven per cent. consisted of offences against the Vagrancy Acts. Putting these two classes of offences together we arrive at the result that out of a total number of crimes of all kinds committed in England and Wales, 15 per cent. may conceivably be due to destitution. This is a very serious percentage, and if it actually represented the number of persons who commit crime from sheer want of the elementary necessaries of life, the confession would have to be made that the economic condition of the country was deplorable. But is it a fact that destitution in the sense we have been using the word is the cause of all these offences? This is the next question we have to solve, and the answer springing from it will reveal the true position of the case.

Let us deal first with offences against property. As has just been pointed out these constitute eight per cent. of the annual amount of crime. But according to inquiries which I have made, one half of the annual number of offenders against property, so far from being in a state of destitution, were actually at work, and earning wages at the time of their arrest. Nor in this surprising. The daily newspapers have only to be consulted to confirm it. In a very great number of instances the records of criminal proceedings testify to the fact that the person charged is in some way or other defrauding his employer, and when these cases are deducted from the total of offences against property, it considerably lessons the percentage of persons driven by destitution into the ranks of crime. Add to these the great bulk of juvenile offenders convicted of theft, and that peculiar class of people who steal, not because they are in distress, but merely from a thievish disposition, and it will he manifest that half the cases of theft in England and Wales are not due to the pressure of absolute want.

But what shall be said of the other half which still represents four per cent. of the annual amount of crime. According to the calculations just referred to, the offenders constituting this percentage were not in work when the crimes charged against them were committed. Was it destitution arising from want of employment which led them to break the law? At first sight one may easily be inclined to say that it is. These people, it will be argued, have no work and no money. What are they to do but beg or steal? Before jumping at this conclusion it must not be forgotten that there is such a person as the habitual criminal. The habitual criminal, as he will very soon tell you if you possess his confidence absolutely, declines to work. He never has worked, he does not want work; he prefers living by his wits. With the recollection of imprisonment fresh upon him an offender of this description may in rare instances take employment for a short period, but the regularity of life which work entails is more than he can bear, and the old occupation of thieving is again resorted to. To live by plundering the community is the trade of the habitual criminal; it is the only business he truly cares for, and it is wonderful how long and how often he will succeed in eluding the suspicion and vigilance of the police. Of course, offenders of this class, when arrested, say they are out of work, and will very readily make an unwary person believe that it is destitution which drives them to desperation. But as was truly remarked a short time ago by a judge in one of the London courts, nearly all of these very men are able to pay high fees to experienced counsel to defend them. After these observations, it will be seen that the habitual criminal, the man who lives by burglary, housebreaking, shoplifting, and theft of every description, is not to be classed among the destitute. Criminals of this character constitute at least two per cent. of the delinquents annually brought before the courts.

Respecting the two per cent. of offenders which remain to be accounted for, it will not be far from the mark to say that destitution is the immediate cause of their wrong-doing. These offenders are composed of homeless boys, of old men unable to work, of habitual drunkards who cannot got a steady job, or keep it when they get it, of vagrants who divide their time between begging and petty theft, and of workmen on the tramp, who have become terribly reduced, and will rather steal than enter a workhouse. The percentage of these offenders varies in different parts of the country. In the north of England, for instance, there are comparatively few homeless boys who find their way before the magistrates on charges of theft; in London, on the other hand, the number is considerable, and ranges according to the season of the year, or the state of trade, to between 1 and 3 per cent. of the criminal population. Why does London enjoy such an evil pre-eminence in this matter? In my opinion it often arises from the fact that house-accommodation is so expensive in the metropolis. In London, it is a habit with many parents, owing to the want of room at home, to make growing lads shift for themselves at a very early age. These boys earn just enough to enable them to secure a bare existence; out of their scanty wages it is impossible to hire a room for themselves; they have to be contented with the common lodging-house. In such places these boys have to associate with all sorts of broken-down, worthless characters, and in numbers of instances they come by degrees to adopt the habits and modes of life of the class among which their lot is cast. At the very time parental control is most required it is almost entirely withdrawn; the lad is left to his own devices; and, in too many cases, descends into the ranks of crime. The first step in his downward career begins with the loss of employment; this sometimes happens through no fault of his own, and is simply the result of a temporary slackness of trade; but in most instances a job is lost for want of punctuality or some other boyish irregularity which can only be properly corrected at home. To lose work is to be deprived of the means of subsistence; the only openings left are the workhouse or crime. It is the latter alternative which is generally chosen, and thus, the lad is launched on the troubled sea of crime.

It must not be understood that all London boys drift into crime after the manner I have just described. In some instances these unfortunates have lived all their life in criminal neighbourhoods, and merely follow the footsteps of the people around them. What, for instance, is to be expected from children living in streets such as Mr. Charles Booth describes in his work on "Life and Labour in East London?" One of these streets, which he calls St. Hubert Street, swarms with children, and in hardly any case does the family occupy more than one room. The general character of the street is thus depicted. "An awful place; the worst street in the district. The inhabitants are mostly of the lowest class, and seem to lack all idea of cleanliness or decency .... The children are rarely brought up to any kind of work, but loaf about, and, no doubt, form the nucleus for future generations of thieves and other bad characters." In this street alone there are between 160 and 170 children; these children do not require to go to lodging-houses to be contaminated; they breathe a polluted moral atmosphere from birth upwards, and it is more than probable that a considerable proportion of them will help to recruit the army of crime. It is not destitution which will force them into this course, but their up-bringing and surroundings.

In addition to homeless boys who steal from destitution, there are, as I have said, a number of decrepit old men who do the same. There is a period in a workman's life when he becomes too feeble to do an average day's work. When this period arrives employers of labour often discharge him in order to make way for younger and more vigorous men. If his home, as sometimes happens, is broken up by the death of his wife, his existence becomes a very lonely and precarious one. An odd job now and again is all he can get to do, and even these jobs are often hard to find. His sons and daughters are too heavily encumbered with large families to be capable of rendering any effective assistance, and the Union looms gloomily in the distance as the only prospect before the worn-out worker. But it sometimes happens that he will not face that prospect. He will rather steal and run the risk of imprisonment. And so it comes to pass that for a year or two before finally reconciling himself to the Union, the aged workman will lead a wandering, criminal life on a petty scale; he becomes an item in the statistics of offenders against property.

Habitual drunkards form another class who sometimes steal from destitution. The well-known irregularity of these men's habits prevents them, in a multitude of cases, from getting work, and unfortunately, they cannot keep it when they do get it. Employers cannot depend on them; as soon as they earn a few shillings they disappear from the workshop till the money is spent on drink. It is at such times that they are arrested for being drunk and disorderly. As they can never pay a fine they have to go to prison, but long before their sentence has expired they have lost their job, and must look out for something else. If such men do not find work many of them are not ashamed to steal, and it is only when trade is at flood-tide that they can be sure of employment, no matter how irregular their habits may be. At other times they are the first to be discharged and the last to be engaged. It is not really destitution, but intemperance which turns them into thieves. That they are destitute when arrested is perfectly true, but we must go behind the immediate fact of their destitution in order to arrive at the true causes of their crimes. When this is done it is found that the stress of economic conditions has very little to do with making these unhappy beings what they are; on the contrary, it is in periods of prosperity that they sink to the lowest depths.

Summing up the results of this inquiry into the relations between destitution and offences against property, we arrive as nearly as possible at the following figures, so far as England and Wales are concerned:-

Proportion of offences against property to total offences: 8. p. cent.

Thus divided:

Proportion of offenders in work when arrested: 4. p. cent.

Proportion of offenders, habitual thieves: 2. p. cent.

Proportion of offenders, homeless lads and old men: 1. p. cent.

Proportion of offenders, drunkards, tramps: 1. p. cent.

8. p. cent.

We shall now proceed to an examination of offences against the Vagrancy Acts presumably arising from destitution. It has already been pointed out that seven per cent. of the annual amount of crime committed in England and Wales consists of offences against the Vagrancy Acts, and it now remains for us to inquire whether these offences are the result of destitution, or what part destitution plays in producing them.

Out of the 52,136 offenders against the Vagrancy Acts in the year 1888, less than one half (45 per cent.) were charged with begging; the other offences consisted principally in prostitution, in having implements of housebreaking, in frequenting places of public resort to commit felony, in being found on enclosed premises for unlawful purposes. In all these cases, with the exception of prostitution, it is not probable that destitution had much, if anything, to do with inducing the offenders to violate the law. Men who live the life of incorrigible rogues, who prowl about enclosed premises, who lead a mysterious existence, without doing any work, are not to be classed among the destitute; as a general rule, such persons are habitual thieves and vagabonds, who persist in the life they have adopted merely because it suits them best. One of the great difficulties in dealing with persons of this stamp is their hatred of a well-ordered existence; in a vast number of cases the life they live is the only kind of life they thoroughly enjoy; it is a profound mistake to imagine that they are pining for what are usually regarded as the decencies and comforts of human beings. Nothing is further from their thoughts. Let us alone and mind your own business is the secret sentiment and often the open avowal of most of these people. "We should be miserable living according to your ideas; let us live according to our own." It is very common for benevolent people to assume that the objects of their compassion and solicitude are, in reality, as wretched as they imagine them to be. Living themselves in ease, and it may be affluence, and surrounded by all the amenities of existence, it is difficult for them to realise that multitudes can enjoy a rude kind of happiness in the absence of all this. Such, however, is the fact. The vagabond class is not more miserable than any other; it is, of course, not without its sorrows, vicissitudes, and troubles, but what section of the community is free from these ills? This class has even a philosophy adapted to its circumstances, the fundamental articles of which have been once for all summed up in the lines of Burns:-

"Life is all a variorum;

We regard not how it goes,

Let them cant about decorum

Who have characters to lose."

What has just been said respecting the loafing, thieving vagabond applies in a very great measure to the ordinary beggar. The habitual beggar is a person who will not work. He hates anything in the shape of regular occupation, and will rather put up with severe hardships than settle down to the ordinary life of a working-man. It would be easy to adduce instances to demonstrate the accuracy of what is here stated. It would be easy to mention cases by the hundred, in which men addicted to begging have been thoroughly fitted out and started in life, but all to no purpose. Once a man fairly takes to begging, as a means of livelihood, it is almost hopeless attempting to cure him. After a time he loses the capacity for labour; his faculties, for want of exercise, become blunted and powerless, and he remains a beggar to the end of his days. It sometimes happens that the beggar who has taken to mendicancy as a profession is obliged to go to the workhouse as a kind of temporary refuge. This is not so frequent considering the sort of life a vagrant has to lead; but when it does occur, the labour-master of the Union very often finds it next to impossible to got him to perform the task every able-bodied person is expected to complete when taking shelter in a Casual Ward. As a result the habitual beggar has sometimes to appear before the magistrates as a refractory pauper, but a short sentence of imprisonment, which usually follows, has lost all its terrors for him; he prefers enduring it to doing the task allotted to him at the workhouse.

From this it will be seen that habits of indolence, and not the stress of destitution, are responsible for a great deal of the begging which goes on in England; but these habits are not answerable for the whole of it. When times are bad begging has a decided tendency to increase, and this arises from the fact that a considerable proportion of the community possess wonderfully few resources within themselves. Even in depressed times it is astonishing how well men who can turn their hand, as it is called, can manage to live. Men of this stamp are not beaten and rendered helpless by the misfortune of losing their usual employment; they are capable of devising fresh methods of earning a livelihood; they are persistent, persevering, energetic; they are not content to stand by with their hands in their pockets and their back at the wall; at times they even create an occupation, and devise new wants for the community. Such men exist in large numbers among the working population, and are able to tide over periods of slackness and depression in a truly admirable way. But there are others who are utterly lost the moment trade ceases to flourish. As soon as they lose the job they have been accustomed to work at they at once sink into a condition of complete helplessness; knowing not which way to move or what steps to take; in a very short time they are to be found soliciting alms in the streets. It is a very serious matter when such persons are reduced to these straits. With the advent of better times it is often very difficult to enrol them once again in the ranks of industry. Bad habits have been acquired, self-respect has broken down, the mind has become accustomed to a lower plane of existence; the danger has arisen that persons who were to begin with only beggars by accident may end by becoming beggars from choice. This is what actually does happen in some instances, and especially where the level of life and comfort has at all times been low. The transition from the one state to the other is not a very pronounced one, and the step into the position of a habitual beggar is not hard to take after a certain number of lessons in the mendicant's art have once been learnt. In one sense it is the pressure of want which has made these people beggars, in another sense it is their own apathy and feebleness of resource.

It is not easy to estimate the number of persons who become habitual mendicants in consequence of slackness of work and the temporary loss of employment. As a matter of fact the whole body of statistical information bearing upon vagrancy is rather unreliable in character, and it is difficult to see how it can be anything else. In almost all cases of begging the initiative is taken by the police; it very seldom happens that a private citizen gives a beggar in charge. The regular and systematic enforcement of the Vagrancy Acts by the public authorities is impeded by a variety of causes, each of which makes it difficult to grasp accurately the proportions of the begging population. In the first place no two policemen enforce the law with the same stringency; one is inclined to be lax and lenient, while another will not allow a single case to escape. In some districts chief constables do not care to bring too many begging cases before the local magistrates; in other districts chief constables are zealous for the rooting out of vagrancy. In some counties the magistrates themselves are not so anxious to convict for vagrancy as they are in others; where the latter tendency prevails, the police take their cue from the magistrates and comparatively few offences against the Vagrancy Acts are brought up for trial. Again, there are times when the public have fits of indulgence towards beggars, which are counterbalanced at other periods by a corresponding access of severity; these oscillations of public sentiment are immediately felt by the executive authorities. The conduct of policemen and magistrates towards the begging fraternity is largely shaped by the dominant public mood, and the statistics of vagrancy move up and down in sympathy with it. Thus it comes to pass that the variations which take place in the annual statistics of vagrancy do not necessarily correspond with the growth or diminution of the number of persons following this mode of life; the actual number of such persons in the population may in reality be varying very little or, perhaps, remaining stationary, whilst official statistics are pointing to the conclusion that important changes are going on. In short, the statistics of vagrancy are more useful as affording a clue to the state of public sentiment with respect to this offence than as offering an accurate test of the extent to which vagrancy prevails.

After this explanation it will be seen how difficult it is, in the first place, to estimate the exact numbers of the vagrant population; and, in the next place, the exact proportion of beggars who have been driven into the ranks of vagrancy, as a result of bad trade and inability to obtain work. My own impression is, that the number of persons who are forced to beg for want of work is not large, and they consist, for the most part, of men beyond middle life or verging upon old age. There are two causes at present in operation in England which often press hard upon such men. The first of these causes is one which was felt more severely twenty or thirty years ago than at the present moment-I moan the introduction of machinery into industries formerly carried on to a large extent by hand. One of the most conspicuous characteristics of the present century is the ever-increasing extent to which inventions of all kinds have invaded almost every department of industry. As far as the young are concerned, those inventions have been on the whole a benefit, and what used to be hard work has become, as Professor Alfred Marshall recently said, merely looking on. But the case stands differently with workmen who are surprised by some new invention at a period of life when the power of adaptability to a fresh set of industrial circumstances is almost entirely gone. One of the first consequences of a new invention may be, and often is, that work which had hitherto been performed by men can now be done by women and boys; or an occupation which had formerly taken years to learn can now be mastered in a few weeks. In other cases the new machine is able to do the work of twenty, fifty, or a hundred men; the article produced is so immensely cheapened that the old handicraftsman is driven out of the field; if he is a man entering into years, and therefore unable to turn his hand to something else, the bread is practically taken out of his mouth, and the machine, which is undoubtedly a benefit to the community as a whole, means starvation to him as an individual. When such circumstances occur, and positive proof in abundance can be adduced to show that they do take place, the position of the aged worker becomes a very hard and embarrassing one. He finds it a very uphill task to change the whole course of his industrial activities at a period of life when nature has lost much of her elasticity; the new means he has had to adopt in order to earn a livelihood are irksome to him; the diminished sum he is now able to earn per week depresses his spirits and deprives him of certain little comforts he had long been accustomed to enjoy; but in spite of these unforeseen and unexpected hardships it is marvellous to see how nobly working-men, as a rule, struggle on to the end, like a bird with a broken wing. There are, however, cases in which the struggle is given up. It would be impossible to enumerate all the causes which lead to such a deplorable result; sometimes these causes are personal, sometimes they are social, while in many instances they are a combination of both. But, whatever such circumstances may be in origin, the effects of them are generally the same; the worker who is incapable of adjusting himself to his new industrial surroundings has few alternatives before him. These alternatives, unless he is supported by his family or relations, resolve themselves into the Union, beggary, or theft. Many choose the Union and, with all its drawbacks, it is undoubtedly the wisest choice; but others have such a horror of the restraints imposed upon the inmates of a workhouse that they enter upon the perilous and precarious career of the beggar or petty thief. The men who make such a choice as this are not, as may easily be surmised, the pick of their class. They consist, to a good extent, of persons who have been somewhat unsteady in their habits; they are not downright drunkards, and they have never allowed drink to interfere with their regular occupation; but it has been their immemorial custom to go in for a good deal of drinking on Saturday nights; on Bank holidays, and other festive occasions. Sensible workmen do not care to amuse themselves after this fashion; it is rather too like a savage orgie for most tastes; at the same time it is the only form of amusement which certain sections of the populace truly and heartily enjoy, and, on the whole, it is perhaps better that this rude form of merry-making should remain, than that the multitude should be deprived of every outlet for the pent-up exuberance of their spirits. My own impression is, that the rough and boisterous element which shows itself so conspicuously when the labouring population is at play will never be eradicated so long as men and women have to spend so much of their time within the four walls of workshops and factories, where so much restraint and suppression of the individual is imperative, if the industrial machine is to go on. It is not at all unnatural that the severe regularity and monotony of an existence chiefly spent in this manner should be occasionally interspersed with outbursts of somewhat boisterous revelry, and the persons who indulge in it are not to be set down off-hand as worthless characters, because they sometimes step beyond due and proper bounds. At the same time it must be admitted that it is generally from the ranks of this class that the supreme aversion to the workhouse proceeds, and that the disposition to live by begging, rather than enter it, most largely prevails. If it happens, therefore, that a man who has lived the life we have just described is thrown out of employment, by the introduction of machinery, at a period when he is too old to turn his hand to something else, he not unfrequently ends by becoming a beggar, and this continues to be his occupation to the last.

The second cause which leads a certain number of elderly men to adopt a life of vagrancy is to be attributed to the action of Trades-Unions. After a workman reaches a certain period of life he is no longer able to do a full day's work. As soon as this period of life arrives, and sometimes even before it does arrive, the artisan finds it becoming increasingly difficult to obtain employment. The rate of wages in his trade is fixed by Trades-Union rules; every man, no matter what his qualifications may be, has to receive so much an hour, or the full Trade-Union wage for the district; no one is allowed to take a job at a lower figure. No doubt Trades-Unionists find that this regulation works well an far as it relates to the young and the able-bodied, and as these always compose the great majority in every trade society, it is a regulation which is not likely to be rescinded or modified. Nevertheless, it is a rule which often operates very unjustly in the case of men who are getting old. These men may have been steady and industrious workmen all their lives, they may still be able to do a fair amount of honest work; but, as soon as that amount of work falls below the daily average of the trade, such men have to go; they are henceforth practically debarred from earning an honest livelihood at what has hitherto been the occupation of their working life. Work may be abundant in the district, but it is useless for grey-haired men to apply; they cannot do the amount required, and as they are not permitted to work at a lower rate of wages than their fellows, the means of getting a living are arbitrarily taken out of their hands. As a consequence of these Trades-Union enactments, cases are not infrequent in which workmen who have just passed middle life, or have sustained injuries, drift insensibly into vagrant habits. These habits are acquired almost without their knowing it. In the vague hope of perhaps finding something to do a man will wander from town to town existing as best he can; after the hope of employment has died away he still continues to wander, and thus forms an additional unit in the permanent army of beggars and vagrants. Trade-Unionists would undoubtedly remedy a great wrong if some effective means were devised by them to meet cases of this character. It should be remembered by those most opposed to any modifications of the present system that they may one day be its victims. The hindrances in the way of putting an end to the injustice inherent in the present arrangements are not incapable of being overcome. It is surely possible to devise a rule which, while leaving intact the essential features of the present system, will render it more flexible-a rule to enable the maimed and the aged who cannot do a full day's work to make, through the Union if need be, some special arrangement with the employers. Such a rule, if properly safe-guarded to prevent abuse, would be of inestimable benefit to many a working man.

If the step here suggested were adopted by the Trade Societies, it would, according to calculations which I have made, reduce the begging population by about two per cent. This percentage, in my opinion, represents the number of vagrants who are able and willing to do a certain amount of work, but cannot get it to do. It is a percentage which at any rate does not err on the side of being too low; when trade is at its ordinary level it is perhaps a little too high. In any case this proportion may be taken as a tolerably accurate estimate of the numbers of the vagrant class which will not enter the Unions when out of employment, and are consequently forced by the pressure of want to resort to a life of beggary.

The proportion here indicated of the number of vagrants who are willing to work coincides in a remarkable manner with certain statistics recently collected by H. Monod of the Ministry of the Interior in France.[19] According to M. Monod a benevolently disposed French citizen wished to know the amount of truth contained in the complaints of sturdy beggars, that they were willing to work if they could get anything to do or anyone to employ them. This gentleman entered into negotiations with some merchants and manufacturers, and induced them to offer work at the rate of four francs a day to every person presenting himself furnished with a letter of recommendation from him. In eight months 727 sturdy beggars came under his notice, all complaining that they had no work. Each of them was asked to come the following day to receive a letter which would enable him to get employment at four francs a day in an industrial establishment. More than one half (415) never came for the letter; a good many others (138) returned for the letter but never

presented it. Others who did present their letter worked half a day, demanded two francs and were seen no more. A few worked a whole day and then disappeared. In short, out of the whole 727 only 18 were found at work at the end of the third day. As a result of this experiment M. Monod concludes that not more than one able-bodied beggar in 40 is inclined to work even if he is offered a fair remuneration for his services.

If further proof were wanted that vagrancy, as far, at least, as England and Wales are concerned, is very seldom produced by destitution, it will be found in the following facts. A comparison between the number of male and female vagrants arrested in 1888 under the provisions of the Vagrancy Acts shows that there were nearly four times more male vagrants proceeded against before the magistrates than female. The exact numbers are males, 40,672; females, 11,464. Although the numbers charged vary from year to year, the proportion between males and females always remains very much the same, and it may therefore be considered as established that men are from three to four times more addicted to vagrancy than women. If the charges of prostitution were excluded (they amounted to 6,486 in 1888), it will be found that the proportion of male vagrants to female is as eight to one. Looking at this matter à priori, we should expect these figures to be reversed. In the first place women form a considerably larger proportion of the community than men, and in the second place there are not nearly so many openings for females in our present industrial system. Forming a judgment upon these two sets of facts alone, one would almost inevitably come to the conclusion that women would be found in much larger numbers among the vagrant class than men. There are fewer careers open to them in the industrial world; they are less fitted to move about from place to place in search of work; the pay they receive in manufacturing and other establishments is, as a rule, very poor; but in spite of all these economic disadvantages only one woman becomes a beggar to every four men, or, if we exclude fallen women, to every eight men. What does this condition of things serve to show? It is an incontestable proof that at least three-fourths or, perhaps, seven-eighths of the begging carried on by men is without economic excuse. If women who are so heavily handicapped in the race of life can run it to such a large extent without resorting to vagrancy, so can men. That men fall so far behind women in this respect is to be attributed, as we have seen, not to their want of power, but to their want of will. They possess far more opportunities of earning a livelihood than their sisters, but, notwithstanding this advantage, they figure far more prominently in the vagrant list. The only possible explanation of this state of things is that vagrancy is, to a very large extent, entirely unconnected with economic conditions; the position of trade either for good or evil is a very secondary factor in producing this disease in the body politic; its extirpation would not he effected by the advent of an economic millennium; its roots are, as a rule, in the disposition of the individual, and not to any serious degree in the industrial constitution of society; hence, the only way to stamp it out is by adopting vigorous and effective methods of repression.

The British Isles are in a position to adopt these measures with boldness and confidence, for the Poor Law system provides for all genuine cases of destitution, and in striking at begging with a heavy hand, the authorities are at the same time doing much to suppress other kinds of crime. It has to be remembered that the vagrant is a dangerous person in more ways that one. The life he leads, his habit of going from house to house, affords him ample opportunities of noticing where a robbery may he successfully committed. If he does not make use of the opportunities himself, he is not at all unwilling to let others who will into his secret for a small consideration. In low lodging-houses and public-houses of a similar type beggars and thieves are accustomed to meet, to fraternise, to exchange notes; the beggar is able to give the burglar a hint, and many a case of house-breaking is the outcome of these sinister confabulations. Little do many people imagine when they are doing a good deed, as they believe, to some worthless, wandering reprobate, that he is at the same moment looking around, so as to be able to tell a companion how best the house may be robbed. It is very seldom thieves break into houses without having received information beforehand respecting them, and the source of that information is in many instances the vagrant, who has been knocking at the door for alms a short time before.

One of the principal reasons which makes beggary such a profitable occupation, and renders it so hard to repress, is the persistent belief among great numbers of people that beggars are working men in distress. That, of course, is the beggar's tale, but it is a baseless fabrication. It is no more the practice of working-men to go about begging than it is the practice of the middle-class, but until this elementary fact can be laid hold of by the public all statutory enactments for the suppression of mendicity will be but partial in their operation. Speaking from considerable personal experience, as well as from statistical facts, one is able to affirm that the great mass of the working population of these islands have nothing whatever in common with the indolent vagrant; and it is a libel on the working-classes to assume that a man is a workman to-day and a beggar to-morrow. As a matter of fact, beggars are recruited from all ranks of the community, when they are not actually born to the trade. Of course, the greatest number is drawn from the working population; it is they who form the immense bulk of the nation, and it is only reasonable to suppose that they will contribute to the begging fraternity in proportion to their numbers. But, just as the proportion of thieves drawn from the working-classes is not greater than the proportion drawn from the well-to-do classes, so is it likewise with beggars. The other classes, in proportion to their numbers, contribute just about as many beggars to the community as the working population, and such beggars are generally the most hardened and villainous specimens of their tribe. With the beggar sprung from the working population one is sometimes able to do something, but a beggar who has descended from the higher walks of life is one of the most hopeless, as well as one of the most corrupt creatures it is possible to conceive. If the public would only allow themselves to realise that these are the facts respecting vagrancy, and if they would exercise their knowledge in consistently refusing help to professional wanderers, the plague of beggars would soon disappear, to the immense relief and benefit of everybody, not excluding the beggars themselves.

A persistent refusal to assist beggars, while perfectly justifiable in these islands, is a method which can hardly be adopted in countries where there is no efficient and comprehensive Poor Law. In such countries, for instance, an Austria and Germany, where there is no proper provision on the part of the State for the feeble, the helpless, the aged, the maimed, begging, on the part of these unfortunates, becomes, in many cases, an absolute necessity. Recent statistics,[20] respecting the working of additions to the Austrian vagrancy laws passed in 1885, would seem to show that numbers of the genuine labouring population have been in the habit of resorting to begging when going from place to place in search of employment. To meet these cases the Austrian Government, in the year just mentioned, secured the passing of a law for the establishment of what are called Naturalverpflegstationen, or refuges for workmen on the tramp. These shelters or refuges are strictly confined to the use of genuine labourers; the poor of the surrounding neighbourhood are not allowed to enter them; nor is any one afforded shelter who cannot show that he has been at work within the previous three months, or who applies twice for admission in the course of that time. A man must also produce his papers and be willing to perform a certain amount of work; in return for this he is allowed to remain at the shelter for eighteen hours, but not more, and is informed on his departure where the next station is situated. He is also told if there is any probability of getting employment in the district and is given the names of employers in want of men. These institutions are a combination, of the casual ward and the labour bureau, differing, however, from the casual ward in rejecting all mere wanderers and accepting genuine workmen alone.

It in only in some parts of the Austrian Empire that this system has as yet been put into operation, for the act is of a permissive character and is mainly worked by the local authorities. In those districts of lower Austria where it has been tried, it has so far produced most satisfactory results; begging has decreased according to the statistics for 1888, more than 60 per cent. in the course of three years, while in other parts of Austria, where these institutions are not yet adopted, it has only decreased 25 per cent. The system has as yet been in operation for too short a period to enable an opinion to be formed of its eventual success, but so far it promises well and is an interesting experiment which deserves to be watched. In any case the experience derived from the working of this law shows that in Austria, at least, the workman in search of employment has up till recently been too often confounded with the habitual beggar, a confusion highly detrimental to the real interests of the State. One of the main objects of every well ordered Poor Law system should be to create as wide a gulf as possible between the begging class and the working-class; it should do everything possible to prevent anything like a solidarity of interests between these two sections of the community; it should dissociate the worker from the vagrant in every conceivable manner, so that the working population cannot possibly fail to see that the State draws a sharp line of distinction between them and the refuse of the land. It was a wise remark of Goethe's that, if you want to improve men you must begin by assuming that they are a little better than what they seem; and it is a principle which is applicable to communities and classes as well as to individuals.

Before dismissing the question of the relations between vagrancy and destitution there is one more point which still requires to be considered. According to English law, prostitution is set down as a form of vagrancy, and the number of persons convicted of this offence is to be found included in the statistics of vagrancy. We shall, therefore, consider prostitution in this connection as a form of vagrancy, and proceed to examine the extent to which it is produced by destitution. If this grave social disorder were entirely due to a want of the elementary needs of life on the part of the unhappy creatures who practice it, we should find an utter absence of it in America and Australia. In these two important portions of the globe, woman's work is at a premium; it is one of the easiest things imaginable for females to get employment; no one willing to work need remain idle a single day, and the bitter cry of householders, in those quarters of the world, is that domestic servants are not to be had. But, in spite of the favourable position in which women stand, as far as work is concerned in America and Australia, what do we find? Do we find that there is no such thing as a fallen class in Melbourne and New York? On the contrary, it is often a subject of bitter complaint by American and Australian citizens that their large towns are just as bad, as far as sexual morality goes, as the cities of the old world. The higher economic position of women does not seem to touch the evil either in the Antipodes or beyond the Atlantic. It exists among communities where destitution is an almost unmeaning word; it exists in lands where no woman need be idle, and where she is highly paid for her services. In the face of such facts it is impossible to believe that destitution is the only motive which impels a certain class of women to wander the streets.

What is true with respect to destitution is that it compels women to remain in the deplorable life they have adopted, but it seldom or never drives them to take to it. Almost all the best authorities are agreed upon this point. No one has examined this social sin in all its bearings with such patience and exhaustiveness as Parent Duchatelet, and his deliberate opinion, after years of investigation, is that its origin lies in the character of the individual, in vanity, in slothfulness, in sex. It does not, however, follow that a person possessing these characteristics in an abnormal degree is bound to fall. If such a person is protected by parental care, no evil results need necessarily ensue. It is when low instincts are combined with a bad home that the worst is to be feared. This fact was clearly and emphatically brought to light by the parliamentary inquiry which took place in France a few years ago. M. Th. Roussel, one of the highest authorities on the committee, the man, in fact, from whom the inquiry derived its name, thus sums up some of its results: "However large a part in the production of prostitution must be allowed to the love of pleasure and of finery, to a dislike of work and to debased instincts, the cause which, according to the facts cited, appears everywhere as the most powerful and the most general, is the want of a home, the want of maternal care." Here are some of the facts on which M. Roussel bases his general statement. "At Bordeaux, out of 600 'filles inscrites' 98 were minors. Of the latter, 44 appear to have fallen through their own fault alone. The remaining 54 grew up under abnormal, domestic conditions; 14 were orphans, without father or mother, 7 had only one parent, 32 had been abandoned or perverted by their parents."

In England it would be impossible to conduct a parliamentary inquiry on the lines of the "Enquête Roussel," but it is very probable if such an inquiry were instituted it would reveal a condition of things very similar to what exists in France. The scattered and fragmentary information we do possess points to that conclusion, and the conclusion, it must be admitted, is not at all a hopeful or comforting one. Supposing that all the homeless and deserted female children we have now in our midst were immediately placed under the protection of the State (as a matter of fact, most of them are), it does not follow that they will grow up to lead regular lives. According to the thirty-second report of the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools, the authorities are unable to account satisfactorily for the character of more than four fifths of the inmates of girls' industrial schools who have left these institutions on an average for two or three years. That is to say, it is probable that about twenty out of every hundred girls go to the bad within two or three years of leaving an industrial school. The proportion of girls discharged from reformatory schools, whose character is bad within two years of their discharge, is still larger than in the case of industrial schools. This is only what might be expected, for it is the worst cases that are now sent to reformatory schools. "Since the passing of the Elementary Education Act," said Miss Nicoll of the Girls' Reformatory, Hampstead, at the Fourth Conference of the National Association of certified Reformatory and Industrial Schools, "a great change has gradually been made in the character and age of the inmates of our reformatories on admission. The School Boards in the country, and more especially the School Board of London, by enforcing compulsory attendance of all the children of the poor between the ages of five and thirteen, have swept into what are termed Truant Schools all the neglected and uncontrollable children who were formerly sent to certified industrial schools-these latter being now retained in a great measure for children who, besides being neglected and beyond the control of their parents, have either taken their first steps in a course of crime, or have, by association with vicious companions, become familiar with it. The industrial schools have thus intercepted the very class from which our numbers were usually drawn, leaving, as a rule, for reformatories, girls about fifteen, who, though nominally under fifteen, are sometimes a good deal older when admitted. Young persons, as these are termed in the Summary Jurisdiction Acts of 1879, are of a much more hardened character than before, and in addition to having been guilty of acts of petty larceny, have frequently been prostitutes for some time anterior to their admission. This being so, it can hardly be wondered at if the success of reformatories is not so marked as it was when they were first instituted."

Seeing that reformatories for girls, on account of the more hardened character of their inmates on admission, are not so successful as industrial schools, it is certainly within the mark to say that at least one-fourth of the cases discharged from these institutions become failures in the space of two years. If the proportion is so high at the end of two years, what will it amount to at the end of five? It is then that the young person enters upon what is par excellence the criminal age, and when that age is reached, I fear that the proportion of failures increases considerably. In any case we have sufficient data to show that the protection of the State, when extended, as it is in the United Kingdom, to helpless and homeless girls, does not in many instances suffice to keep them on the road of virtue. Deep-seated instincts manage to assert themselves in spite of the most careful training, the most vigilant precautions, and until the moral development of the population, as a whole, reaches a higher level, it will be vain to hope too much from the labours of State institutions, however excellent these institutions may be.

It has, however, to be remembered that the fallen class is not by any means recruited exclusively from the ranks of the helpless and the homeless. On the contrary, according to the evidence of the Roussel commission, nearly one half of the minors (44 out of 98) found in the "maisons de tolerance" of Bordeaux had no domestic or economic impediments to encounter. External circumstances, as far as could be seen, had nothing to do with the unhappy position in which they stood, and the life they adopted appears to have been entirely of their own choosing. It is true the Bordeaux statistics only cover a small area, and are not to be looked upon as in themselves exhaustive, but when these statistics confirm, as they do, the careful observations of all unbiassed investigators, we cannot be far wrong in coming to the conclusion that in France, at least, fifty per cent. of the cases of prostitution are not originally due to the pressure of want. Since the introduction of Truant and Industrial Schools in this country for homeless and neglected girls, it is certain that the proportion of those who fall from sheer destitution must be extremely small. On the Continent, where such institutions do not exist on such an extensive scale, the proportion may be somewhat larger, but in the United Kingdom it cannot, according to the most liberal computation, exceed ten per cent. of the cases brought before the magistrates. Many experienced observers will not allow that it reaches such a high percentage.

We are now in a position to tabulate the results of our inquiries as to the part played by destitution in producing prostitution and vagrancy. The following table represents the proportion of persons charged under the provisions of the Vagrancy Acts in the year 1888:-

Percentage of beggars, 45 per cent.

Percentage of prostitutes, 12 per cent.

Percentage of other offenders, 43 per cent.

100 per cent.

Percentage of beggars destitute from misadventure, 2 per cent.

Percentage of prostitutes destitute from misadventure, 10 per cent.

Percentage of other offenders destitute from misadventure, 2 per cent.

14 per cent.

It has already been pointed out that persons charged with offences against the Vagrancy Acts constitute on an average 7 per cent. of the total annual criminal population. According to the statistics we have just tabulated, 5 per cent. of these offences are not due to the pressure of destitution, and only 2 per cent. are to be attributed to that cause.

Let us now collect the whole of the figures set forth in this chapter, so that we may be in a position to give an answer to the question with which we set out, namely, to what extent are theft and vagrancy the product of destitution?

Proportion of offences against Property and the Vagrancy Acts to total number of offences tried in 1888, 15 per cent.

Proportion of offenders against property destitute, 2 per cent.

Proportion of offenders against Vagrancy Acts destitute, 2 per cent.

Adding together the two classes of offenders against Property and the Vagrancy Acts who, according to our calculations, are destitute when arrested, we arrive at the fact that they form four per cent. of the total criminal population. As has already been pointed out, beggars and thieves are almost the only two sections of the criminal community likely to be driven to the commission of lawless acts by the pressure of absolute want. It very seldom happens that murders, for instance, are perpetrated from this cause; in fact, not one murder in ten is even committed for the purpose of theft. The vast majority of the remaining offences against the criminal law are only connected in a remote degree with the economic condition of the population, and in hardly any instance can it be said of them, that they are the outcome of destitution. In order, however, to err on the safe side, let us assume that one per cent. of offenders, other than vagrants and thieves, are to be ranked among the destitute. What is the final result at which we then arrive with respect to the percentage of persons forced by the action of destitution into the army of crime? In the case of vagrants and thieves it has just been seen that the proportion amounted to four per cent.; adding one per cent. to this proportion, brings up the total of offenders who probably fall into crime through the pressure of absolute want to five per cent. of the annual criminal population tried before the courts.

These figures are important; they demonstrate the fact that although there was not a single destitute person in the whole of England and Wales, the annual amount of crime would not be thereby appreciably diminished. At the present day it is a very common practice to pick out a case of undoubted hardship here and there, and to assume that such a case is typical of the whole criminal population. It is, of course, well to point out such cases, and to emphasise them as much as possible till we reach such a pitch of excellence in our administration of the law as will render all unmerited hardship exceedingly rare. As it is, such cases are becoming less frequent year by year, and it is an entire mistake to suppose, as is too often done, that a serious amount of the crime perpetrated in England is committed by men and women who are willing to work but cannot get it to do. An opinion of that kind has an alarming tendency to encourage crime; it creates a false sentiment of compassion for the utterly worthless; it prevents them from being dealt with according to their deserts, and worst of all, it is apt to make the working population imagine that there is a community of interest between them and the criminal classes which does not in reality exist. From the point of view of public policy nothing can be more pernicious than to propagate such an idea; and no artisan who values his own dignity should ever allow any man, whether on platforms or in newspapers, to identify him in any way whatever with the common criminal.

Before finally leaving the question of the relations between destitution and crime, we shall now briefly inquire whether anything further can be accomplished in the matter of raising our legal and poor law administration to such a pitch of excellence, that not even five per cent. of our incriminated population can, with justice, bring forward any economic pretext whatever for violating the law. As far as legal administration is concerned, it must be remembered that mistakes will sometimes occur, no matter how numerous the precautions may be with which justice is surrounded.

To be certain of justice in all circumstances you must have not only an infallible law, but also an infallible judge and an infallible method of criminal administration. It is a truism to say that this is an impossibility, and every now and again society will have to submit to be shocked by the revelation of a palpable miscarriage of justice. At the same time it is important to take every possible precaution against the occurrence of such distressing accidents. This can only be effected by placing the administration of the law in all its departments, from the policeman to the Home Secretary, in the hands of thoroughly competent officials who have not only their heart, but what is equally important, their head in the work. When this is done, and if these officials are not embarrassed by public clamour in the performance of their duties (honest criticism will do them good), all will have been accomplished which it is possible to get in the way of effective and enlightened administration of the law.

In the next place it may be possible to mitigate the operation of our present poor law system in all cases of destitution through misadventure. Some prominent politicians-and I believe among them Mr. Morley-appear to be in favour of this course; and at a recent meeting of the British Association, Professor Alfred Marshall was inclined to the belief that a much larger discrimination might be allowed than now exists in the administration of out-door relief in cases of actual want; and also that separate and graduated workhouses might be established for the deserving poor. It will be admitted on all hands that proposals of this character land us on very delicate ground, and require the most mature consideration. Even now the inmate of a workhouse is often better supplied with food, clothing, and shelter than the poor labourer, who has to pay taxes to support him. If the condition of that inmate is made still more comfortable, will it be possible to prevent hundreds and thousands of the very poor, who now keep outside these institutions, from immediately crowding into them as soon as the slightest economic difficulties arise? Almost all philanthropic schemes, and especially all such schemes when supported by the public purse, have a tendency to be administered with more and more laxity as time goes on; and a scheme of this kind, if carried into law, would require to be managed with the utmost circumspection in order to avoid pauperising great masses of the community.

A scheme of this character will, however, have to be tried if the manifesto of the Executive Council of the Dockers' Union, issued in September last, is to be acted upon by Trade-Unionists in general. According to the doctrine laid down in this manifesto, the idea of a Trade-Union, as a free and open combination, which every workman may enter, provided he pays his subscription and conforms to the rules, is an idea which must for the future be abandoned. Henceforth, a Trade-Union is to be a close corporation to be worked for the benefit of persons who have succeeded in getting inside it. The Dockers' Union, to do them justice, see that this policy is bound to increase the numbers of the destitute, but they propose to remedy this condition of things by establishing "in each municipality factories and workshops where all those who cannot get work under ordinary conditions shall have an opportunity afforded them by the community." If these State establishments are to be started for the unemployed, the workers in them must work at something, and it will have to be something which the unskilled labourer will not require a great deal of time to learn. What would the dockers say if one of these establishments was instituted by the municipality for the loading and unloading of ships? Hardly a Trade-Union Congress meets in which the complaint is not made that prison labour interferes with free labour; but what sort of outcry would there be if State labour, on an extensive scale, were to enter into serious competition with the individual workman?

These schemes for the establishment of State institutions offering work to the indigent will never solve the problem of want, and all attempts that have hitherto been made in that direction have either ended in failure or met with small success.

The latest of these schemes is a village settlement, which the authorities in New Zealand started some time ago to meet the case of the unemployed. The Government, in the first place, spent £16,000 in making roads and other conveniences for the settlers, and afterwards advanced £21,000 for building houses, buying implements, and so on. According to recent advices from New Zealand, only £2000 of this advance has been paid back, and it is the general feeling of the colony that the project has proved a failure. These, and other experiments of a similar character, compel us to recognise the disagreeable fact that a certain proportion of people who are in the habit of falling out of work are, as a class, extremely difficult to put properly on their legs. Failure, for some reason or another, always dogs their steps, and the more Society does for them, the less they will be disposed to do anything for themselves.

When such persons are sent to prison on charges of begging, or petty theft, it very often happens that they are assisted on their release by a Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society. Tools are given them, work is found for them, yet they do not thrive. Not infrequently the job is given up on some frivolous pretext; or if it is a temporary one, little or no effort is made till it actually comes to an end to look out for another. It is little wonder that men who live in such a fashion should occasionally be destitute; the only wonder is that they manage to pass through life at all. Those men hang upon the skirts of labour and seek shelter under its banner, but it is only for short and irregular intervals that they march in the ranks of the actual workers. The real working man knows such people well, and heartily despises them.

Would it be a right thing to increase the burdens of the taxpayer by opening State workshops, even if such a plan were feasible, for men of the stamp we have just been describing? Decidedly it would not. Yet these men form a fair proportion of the persons whom we have classed as driven to crime by economic distress. As far, then, as the criminal population is concerned, no necessity exists for the organisation of State factories; and so far as destitution is a factor in the production of crime, it can be grappled with by other agencies. In fact, if a graduated system of Unions, with a kind of casual ward, somewhat after the German Naturalverpflegstationen, could be worked and if Trade Societies adopted, under proper precautions, the principle of allowing debilitated members of their trade the opportunity of doing something at a somewhat reduced rate, it would be impossible for any well-intentioned man to say that he was driven to crime from sheer want. It is worth while, on the part of the nation, to make some small sacrifice to attain an object so supremely important as this. It is very probable that hardly any sacrifice will be needed. In any case it would get rid of the uncomfortable feeling entertained by many that there are occasions when human beings are punished who ought to be fed. It would completely alienate all sympathy from crime; it would then be known that criminal offenders deserved the punishment they received, and justice would be able to deal with them with a firm and even hand.

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