Mike Dee, Simon Schooneveldt & John Tomlinson, New Community Quarterly, Vol. 3, No.3, 2005 pp. 41-45.
They make no differ twixt the absentee swell
And the clerk that cut from a “shortage”—
Oh! there ain’t no pauper funer-el,
And there ain’t no “impressive cortege.”
It may be a chap from the for’ard crowd,
Or a member of the British Peerage,
But they sew his nibs in a canvas shroud
Just the same as the bloke from the steerage —
As that poor bloke from the steerage.
Henry Lawson The Briny Grave (Written in 1900)
There was a time when voting rights were the perquisite of male property owners. Now in most countries women and even the poor, who are over 18 years of age, have the vote – although there are still writers who advocate that those who receive more in benefits from the government than they pay in tax should lose the franchise (Hazlitt cited in Van Parijs 1996, p. 110). Modern citizenship is conceived of as embodying a more complex collection of features than the franchise or even broader political rights. After Marshall (1950), it now includes social and economic rights. These latter rights are outlined in United Nations conventions and find elaborate expression in the works of Basic Income advocates (Van Parijs 1992, 1997, Standing 2002, 2004, Murray 1997). In Britain, the main Basic Income advocacy group calls itself “Citizens Income”. Yet in many parts of the world residues exist of an earlier conception of citizenship which are closely tied to notions of economic self sufficiency. In this paper we will contrast the ideologies which underlie the treatment of paupers and those which underpin Basic Income.
T.H. Marshall’s analysis of citizenship has, until relatively recently, been “the dominant paradigm” (Mann 1995, p.42, see also Roche 1992, Held 1995 and Bynner and Furlong 1997). Marshall (1950) delineates three broad stages of evolving citizenship rights. Civil citizenship in the eighteenth century concerns rights to personal freedom and equality before the law, political citizenship emerging in the nineteenth century, centres on the franchise and social citizenship is marked in the twentieth century by the growth of the welfare state. For Bulmer and Rees (1996) Marshall’s paradigm still holds contemporary relevance:
T.H. Marshall’s original distinctions, for all their imperfections, still have a robust usefulness. Their deployment, moreover, throws into stark relief, just as it did in Marshall’s day, the contrast between inequalities of class, income, race and gender, and the egalitarian aspirations – however they may be constructed – embedded in the concept of citizenship (p. 283).
Central to his analysis is the importance of the relationship between the citizen, the state and the systems of health, education and social welfare (Marshall 1950, 1975, 1981). For Marshall, William Beveridge’s milestone 1942 report, Social Insurance and Allied Services or, as it is usually referred to, the Beveridge Report, was central to “the modern drive towards social equality” (Marshall 1950, p. 28). The creation of the modern welfare state was “the latest phase of an evolution of citizenship in progress for some 250 years” (Marshall 1950, p. 11).
Marshall was writing at a time of great optimism in the fledgling post Second World War welfare state. Beveridge had proposed a system of family allowances, comprehensive health service and an end to mass unemployment, alongside state provided education and local government housing programs. This confidence in the capacity of the welfare state to deliver improvements in social status over the long term may now seem somewhat misplaced, but for Giddens (1996) such confidence was understandable:
Marshall wrote at a period during which it seemed to almost everyone, supporters and critics alike, that the welfare state would continue its upward trajectory. Hayek was thought of by most as an eccentric and marginal thinker; neoliberalism, as it later became, might have been a gleam in his eye but was hardly even dreamed of by anyone else (p.67).
Social citizenship, a key element of Marshall’s theorem, developed throughout the course of the twentieth century encapsulates economic security and access to health and education. In Marshall’s (1950) own words, it is:
The whole range from a right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in a civilized society. The institutions most closely associated with it are the education system and the social services (p.12).
The defining principle informing the development of the modern British (and Australian) social security system is that of “less eligibility”. This principle is extant in the way current recipients of certain benefits are viewed by others (including claimants). Less eligibility refers to the principle enshrined in the English Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 that recipients of state support should receive benefits at a level below the wage of the lowest paid labourer, so as not to deter them from efforts to obtain employment (Checkland and Checkland 1974). The workhouse test was central to a process of degradation and humiliation so that the lowest paid work might be attractive, when compared to getting ‘indoor relief’ in the parish workhouse (Alcock 1997). Images of the workhouse were immortalized in Charles Dickens’ tale of Oliver Twist (1883) wherein all possibility of human existence was extinguished. For Bauman (1998, p. 13), “whoever agreed to be locked up inside a poorhouse must indeed have had no other way of staying alive”. The prospect of the workhouse was sufficiently grim for Thomas Paine in his Rights of Man (1791) to observe:
When, in countries that are called civilized, we see age going to the work- house and youth to the gallows, something must be wrong in the system of government. It would seem, by the exterior of such countries, that all was happiness; but there lies hidden from the eye of common observation, a mass of wretchedness that has scarcely any other chance than to expire in poverty or infamy. Its entrance into life is marked with the presage of its fate; and until this is remedied, it is in vain to punish (in Pierson and Castles 2000, p.11).
The Poor Laws explicitly sought to nullify the citizenship rights of claimants whose civil rights were forfeited in exchange for the dubious social rights of welfare (Delanty 2000). This finding accords with Marshall’s conviction that the Poor Laws dealt with the claims of the poor and destitute as distinct from the rights of citizenship and only available “if the claimants ceased to be citizens in any true sense of the word” (Marshall 1950, p.128).
A Universal Basic Income Guarantee, concisely referred to as Basic Income, is an unconditional regular cash payment to individual citizens sufficient to meet their basic living needs (Universal Basic Income New Zealand [UBINZ], 2003). Thus, it is important to discuss the concept of citizenship in relation to any system of welfare distribution. In its simplest form, Van Der Veen (1998) described Basic Income as a proposal “to disburse a tax-free subsistence income to every adult citizen, whether he or she is employed or unemployed, wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, active or idle, and…young or old, with basic incomes for children replacing existing child benefits” (p.141). Payment would be unconditional, without a work requirement or means test (Watts, 1996).
There is nothing new about the idea of Basic Income. In 1920 in England, Dennis Milner wrote a book length proposal for a minimum income for all. Cunliffe and Erreygers (2004) discuss even earlier versions of the Basic Income idea. Echoing some of earlier contributions Juliet Rhys-Williams argued for a guaranteed minimum to provide an income floor below which people’s income would not fall (Rhys- Williams, 1943, p.163). Watts (1996) reported that an Australian civil servant, Frederick Wheeler developed an argument for it in 1942. T. H. Marshall (1950) theorised that there were three stages in the historical struggle towards civil, political and social citizenship and he believed that citizens have a right to welfare. By 1975 he went further concluding a Welfare State should be equitable rather than adequate, citing Titmuss’ comment that:
The goal is the optimum satisfaction of needs; all operations undertaken in pursuit of the goal must be governed by the principle of fairness: the reduction of inequality is an expected consequence of this and is always present (Marshall, 1975, p. 203).
In the same year Professor Ronald Henderson gave the idea of income security currency in Australia in his Main Report for the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty (Henderson, 1975) when he argued for a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). The idea stalled because historically welfare had been paid to households, rather than individuals and was generally subjected to means and assets tests (Watts, 1996).
Furthermore “the belief in the virtuousness of work…[actually] does a great deal of harm” (Russell, 1935, pp.10-11). This is not well understood in Australia. The idea of paid work is often thought of as relating to the protestant work ethic, and even Labor governments in Australia have succumbed to this ideology. The ‘blaming’ of welfare recipients, particularly the unemployed is not new. Concern to avoid fiscal blow-outs and a belief that unemployed people are not trying hard enough to find jobs unsettles governments of Liberal and Labor persuasions alike as unemployment grows (Edwards, Howard, & Miller, 2001; Giddens, 1998). Windschuttle (1980) noted Labor Ministers in the 1970s casting slurs about unemployed people being “work shy lion tamers and dole bludgers” (pp. 180-190).
The Hawke/Keating Labor Government utilised the concept of ‘reciprocal obligation’. Unemployed people continue to be portrayed by Government Ministers as ‘dole bludgers’ (Brough, 2001), ‘unwilling to accept work’ (Vanstone, 2002a, 2002b), ‘job snobs’ (Abbott 1999) and ‘welfare dependant’ (Newman, 2000). Welfare recipients are thereby labelled ‘undeserving’ and in need of ‘coercive authority’ to return them to an obligatory state of worthiness (Kinnear, 2000). Similar justifications lay behind the construction of the British 1601 and 1834 Poor Laws (Stretton, 1996). In Europe, however, Philippe Van Parijs, the doyen of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), wrote “A basic income is an income paid by a political community to all its members on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement” (Van Parijs, 2000) (p.3, italics in original).
In Australia Sleep (2001) argued that because it is not ideologically acceptable that “deserving” welfare could apply to all people in need, systems of blaming the undeserving, selectivity and categorisation are used by governments as methods for social control and welfare cost reduction. The economic fundamentalist welfare agenda of the Coalition Conservative Government’s 2005/2006 Budget obliges single parents to seek work when their last child is of school age. Similarly new applicants for the disability support pension, deemed capable of working 15 hours per week, will from July 2006 be placed on a unemployment benefit (paid at a lower rate) that also carries with it “mutual obligations” and severely punitive income reductions for minimal ‘breaches’ (Heywood, 2005, p.5, Moses & Sharples, 2000; Sleep, 2001, Galvin 2004, Tomlinson 2005). Offe (1992, p. 62) offered three reasons as to why the semantics about a ‘correct’ welfare distribution are endless: many causes of distress are beyond individual’s control, the foundations on which ‘blame’ might be apportioned have eroded, and society wide influences play a part in impoverishing many.
Australia has not introduced a Basic Income and persists with an ever tightening categorical welfare system. The prime reason for supporting a universal Basic Income is that it is the most socially just way of ensuring social protection (Standing 2002, Van Parijs 1997, 1992). In an ideal world one might strive to ensure that everyone has their needs fully met. Essentially, in the post-Second World War period, the Australian welfare state was meant to do just that. Australia’s social welfare system, due largely to under-funding as a result of constant attacks from economic fundamentalists, is less capable of ensuring social protection for the most vulnerable than in the late 1970s /early 1980s. Many of the family support structures, which were the first port of call for help in earlier times, have been eroded; full-time work at a rate above the poverty-line is harder to find, resulting in a new class of the ‘working poor’.
Tomlinson (2001), favours a Basic Income over the means-tested and targeted Australian income distribution system which he believes denigrates people who are unemployed and represents a return to the Poor Laws of centuries past. He argues a Basic Income is more efficient because it:
(See also Citizens income, 2002, Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and Basic Income Guarantee Australia (BIGA) websites).
Goodin (1992) argued that Basic Income support is less presumptuous as a system of welfare distribution than other forms of government-provided income support. This is because Basic Income is unconditional; there is no need for government to pry on individuals to establish entitlement. There is no need for government to make assumptions as to the deserving or worthy status of the person receiving the payment. It is that unconditionality that prompted Tomlinson (2003) to argue that Basic Income can alleviate income insecurity, which would in turn eliminate pauperism.
Polanyi (1945) states:
It was in the first half of the sixteenth century that the poor first appeared in England…while the poor in the middle of the sixteenth century were a danger to society, on which they descended like hostile armies, at the end of the seventeenth century they were merely a burden on the rates (p. 108).
He had pointed to the self-serving explanations of 18th century writers that “pauperism and progress were inseparable…The greatest number of poor is not to be found in barren countries or amidst barbarous nations, but in those which are the most fertile and most civilised” (Polanyi 1945, p. 107, see also Sanborn 1899).
The term “pauper” has had many meanings over the last few centuries. It has sometimes been used to denote only the poorest people and at other times been used to describe all dependent on the parish, church or the State for their livelihood (Polanyi 1945, pp 83-87, Trevelyan 1967, pp.483-497, Catholic Encyclopedia 2005). With the greater acceptance of social security and social insurance, coupled with the demise of the Poor Laws workhouse system in the first part of the 20th century pauperism came to mean those without funds or access to social services. The large mental asylums and prisons which buried their impoverished dead within their grounds prolonged the Poor Laws work house meaning of paupers well into the 20th century (Stevens, Stevens and Dunlap 2001). Unlike the English Poor Laws system which was paid by the parish, the system of welfare relief in Scotland in the 1830s early 1840s “was largely based… on voluntary giving. ….Indeed in some places the title pauper was one of status; it allowed a person the licence to beg” Levitt (1988).
The 1834 English Poor Law attempted to abolish “outdoor relief” and expand the workhouse system of institutional relief. As Polanyi (1945) notes: “The workhouse test was reintroduced, but in a new sense. It was left to the applicant to decide whether he was so destitute of all means that he would voluntarily repair to a shelter which was deliberately made into a place of horror” (p. 106).
The distinction made between the worthy poor and the unworthy poor enshrined in the principle of less eligibility of the 1834 Poor Law lies at the heart of much of the debate surrounding pauperism.
The …poor were divided between the physically hapless paupers whose place was in the workhouse, and independent workers who earned their living by labouring for wages. This created an entirely new category of the poor, the unemployed…..While the pauper, for the sake of humanity, should be relieved, the unemployed for the sake of industry, should not be relieved (Polanyi 1945 p. 219).
Whilst stigma is a problem embedded in every targeted welfare system (Boston and St. John 1998, Tomlinson 2003 Chapter 2), it is in relation to 19th century English workhouses that it is most clearly observed. Sanborn (1899), cites Charles Lamport (1870) to support this point:
Its practice is, that no destitute person, however meritorious, can benefit by this organization without having to pass under something very like the old Roman yoke. On the one side of the Caudine forks, a man stands erect, self- respecting and respected, and with name unstained; on the other side he crouches, a changed and degraded being. He has become a social pariah, hopes destroyed, spirit crushed, reputation gone. Society, before it yields what it dare not refuse, so embitters the morsel by contempt that neither giver nor receiver is blessed in the act.
Or may I slave in prisons,
In mental misery,
And no one write a letter,
And no one visit me!
And may I rot with paupers,
A ditch without a stone,
My work be never quoted,
And my grave be never known.
Henry Lawson I’d Back Agen the World (written 1900)
In Melbourne in the last half of the 19th century:
Paupers did not have funerals but were packed into graves and covered with a thin layer of dirt. In one grave up to three or four bodies would be interred but in the graves of children and infants there were no limits to the numbers. Clergymen were contracted by the Government to come and read a short service over the grave before it was finally covered. It was rare for the families to attend the services as it could be some time before the minister came…..Few of these graves were given a tombstone. Generally they were left as simply unmarked graves showing an iron plate with the plot number stamped on it. Some had terracotta borders or wooden crosses with the name painted on them; many simply had no markings at all. In contrast to the other sections in the Cemetery, the paupers graves were generally left neglected and overgrown with moss and plants (Melbourne University 2005 p, 6).
Throughout many parts of the world, the poor who died in mental health asylums, prisoners, and others who died without sufficient funds to pay for their funerals had their remains buried in unmarked graves. In 1882, a Victorian woman Anne Bon wrote to Chief Secretary’s Department campaigning to let Aborigines retain the 4,800 acres of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission. She pointed to the failure of the Aboriginal Protection Board to manage Coranderrk or to look after the interests of Aborigines. She noted that many had been taken from the mission and had died in distant hospitals, “They have not even been provided with a small portion in God’s Acre but have been put into paupers’ graves wherever convenient without even Christian burial” (Australian Women’s Archive 2005). Throughout this continent Aborigines met a similar fate well into the 20th century.
The significance of being buried in an unmarked grave is that it divorces the deceased from the rest of society and is a convenient way of hiding the fact that the State has failed to find a way to include the deceased as a normal citizen. In the words of Polanyi “The very burial of a pauper was made an act by which his fellow men renounced solidarity with him even in death” (1945, p. 106).
In Queensland, the Department of Justice and Attorney-General operates a web page entitled “Arranging burials for paupers” which sets out the assistance to which paupers their family and friends are entitled. Clearly, cost containment is a major feature of this Department’s operations for in the first paragraph it states:
The Department of Justice and Attorney-General is responsible for organising the burial or cremation of impoverished people who die in Queensland. This responsibility extends only to those people who have no means of paying for the funeral themselves, or have no family or friends who can arrange and pay for the funeral for them.
The last paragraph in this first section sets out the raison d’etre for the Department’s involvement: “The service is provided essentially for health reasons. Bodies must be properly disposed of in the interests of public health.” This statement has all the subtlety of a highway clean-up firm explaining why it removes the carcasses of dead animals from the roadway.
The Department rules out subsidising a funeral or reimbursing the costs of a funeral, noting:
An officer of the Department will interview you to determine your financial status and to check that there is no other relative who can finance the funeral. If it is discovered after the funeral has been paid for by the Department that the deceased person, or their family, actually did have sufficient funds to pay for the funeral, the Department may recoup that money.
Family and friends are not totally excluded:
If the Department does decide to arrange and pay for the burial, it is possible for family and friends to attend but no church service is provided. This also applies to headstones; if family or friends would like to provide a headstone, this has to be done at their own expense…. in the case of a cremation, the ashes can be handed over to family or friends if a private ceremony for the scattering of the ashes is preferred.
There is no choice of cemetery:
The Department’s contract with funeral directors also stipulates that they are not to advertise the burial or cremation. However, family or friends can place a death notice only in the classifieds section of the local newspaper, at their own cost.
These extracts from the Queensland Government’s website convey an impression that those dying without sufficient funds to pay for their own funeral are less than full citizens.
The Weekend Australian 23-24 April 2005 ran a page one story about the grandmother of Aboriginal Olympic legend, Kathy Freeman, being buried as a pauper in 1950 and noted that the Protector of Aborigines had not paid the two pound and five shillings for the grave at the time which meant that the family had to pay $495 (the 2005 equivalent of two pound and five shillings) for the plot before they could bury another family member in the same grave (Koch 2005 p.1). The spokeswoman for the cemetery trust involved was quoted as saying “most of those not paid for were pauper’s graves and if they are not paid for people cannot put a monument or headstone on the grave until it is purchased” (Koch 2005, p. 6).
The Freeman family’s experience of the failure of the Protector of Aborigines in 1950 to pay for the burial plot provides an interesting insight into the mentality of a State government whose predecessors were responsible for the nonpayment of over at least $500 million, in today’s value, of wages to Indigenous workers. The current Queensland Government has made an offer of one-tenth of that amount as final settlement for all the missing money from Indigenous accounts (Stolen Wages Campaign 2005).
Perhaps the term “pauper” is imbued with such demeaning connotations that the best choice for those interested in building an embracing and inclusive form of citizenship in this century is to hope the word disappears from the lexicon. But even in that event, it is likely that “indigent” or some other word would replace it. And whilst the word may wound or cause offence, it is such practices as are outlined on the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General web page entitled “Arranging burials for paupers” which undermine the citizenship of impoverished people and their families. It seems inconceivable to speak about solidarity or inclusive citizenship in Queensland whilst such practices remain.
Polanyi, sardonically reflecting upon those who in the last quarter of the 19th century wanted to replace all parish-provided welfare relief in England with private charity, wrote: “But once the indigent were left to the mercy of the well-to-do, who can doubt that “the only difficulty” is to restrain the impetuosity of the latter’s benevolence?” (1945, p. 121).
Clearly, a society in which the concept of pauperism sits alongside inordinate wealth differs markedly from a social system committed to providing to all permanent residents a universal Basic Income. The real challenge facing Australia is to put in place a system of income support such as a Basic Income which, because it is paid universally, has the capacity to abolish pauperism because it alleviates poverty. The solidarity, which a Basic Income could help engender, would then make it much easier to develop the political pressure to force state governments, like Queensland’s, to adopt more enlightened policies, not only in relation to the burial of people who die without sufficient funds to pay for their funerals, but also with regard to other social policies which impact adversely upon low income earners.
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