Posts Tagged ‘‘Poverty and Public Health’’

Richard Oastler, on Why the Poor Deserve to Keep Their Liberty from the Workhouse

April 22, 2016

I found this quote from Richard Oastler’s The Rights of the Poor to Liberty and Life of 1838 in the book Poverty and Public Health, by Rosemary Rees (Oxford: Heinemann 2001):

Remember, always that liberty – freedom from confinement as well as food and clothing – is the birthright of every Englishman, however poor. What, Sir, is the principle of the New Poor Law? The condition imposed upon Englishmen by that accursed law is, that man shall give up his liberty to save his life! That, before he shall eat a piece of bread, he shall go into prison. In prison, he shall enjoy his right to live, but it shall be at the expense of that liberty, without which life itself becomes a burden and curse.

Thank God, the law of the land does not yet say – though the Commissioners of the New Poor Law have dared to say – that poverty is a crime, by which an Englishman may be deprived of the blessings of liberty.

(p.99).

Bloggers like Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, Tom Pride and Mike over at Vox Political, and myself have repeatedly pointed out the similarities of the workfare system to slave labour. It’s also been pointed out, time and again, that a benefit claimant may spend longer on workfare than a criminal sentenced to community service. It doesn’t seem to me to be at all a stretch to apply this quote from Oastler about the ‘New Bastilles’ of the workhouses to workfare and the wretched sanctions regime.