Home   Editorial   About   
The UK's policy-induced pauperism - a note

Hector McNeill1

Pauperism is a specific term applied to those who are provided with work by the state or by private bodies in order to meet basic needs.

The state of pauperism has been with us since the earliest records and gave rise to the first Poor Laws.

Unfortunately conventional macroeconomic policy frameworks, rather than eliminate pauperism have, over the last 30 years and more specifically under the Bank of England's quantitative easing (QE), helped increase the proportion of the population transitioning into the status of paupers. This includes people who are classified as being "employed".


Pauperism is the state of being poor, in England a "pauper" was someone receiving relief under the English Poor Laws. Therefore pauperism is distinguished from poverty, in the sense that poor people might be earning enough to get by and purchase their basic needs. Paupers are those who cannot earn enough and therefore take on work under specific conditions that provides an income that enables such people to purchase basic needs.

14th Century pauperism

The Ordinance of Labourers was one of the first "Poor laws" issued by Edward III in 1349, and revised in 1350. This was in response to the 13481350 outbreak of the Black Death in England resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3040% of the population. This created a labour shortage in the agricultural economy. Landowners had to raise wages to secure workers or were not able to produce. Wages rose as did prices. In an attempt to rein in prices, the Ordinance of Labourers was introduced requiring that everyone who was able, would be required to offer their labour at pre-plague levels. Although people tried to leave such work, Edward III passed additional laws to punish such individuals and additional legislation, such as the Statute of Cambridge (1388), restricted the movement of labourers as well as beggars.

21st Century pauperism

In the 14th Century it is estimated that the population of England was around 2.5 million and if we assume 30% of the population were paupers this is about 750,000 people. Today, with modern technology, and experts running the economy we have 20% of the population who are so poor that they depend on state or private voluntary support in order to survive. This is a total of around 12.4 million people who because of their reliance on additional support come under the definition of paupers.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the most successful period in growth, reduction in poverty and pauperism in the recent history of the United Kingdom occurred between 1945 and 1965 when there was a welfare state based on a mixed economic and the socialist principles of a Labour government. This is not a political statement. It is a statement of the facts based on the data for that period.

The Beveridge report of 1942 entitled, "Social Insurance and Allied Services", had laid much of the foundation of the 1945 Labour government's plans to rebuild and improve Britain after the war had ended. Beveridge declared, on delivering his report, that there were five "giants on the road to reconstruction". These became policy objectives spelt out by William Beveridge in 1942 as:
  1. want an adequate income for all
  2. disease access to health care
  3. ignorance a good education
  4. squalor adequate housing
  5. idleness gainful employment
In order to tackle these, Beveridge proposed the establishment of a welfare state.

Quantitative easing

Quantitative easing has represented at attack on all of these objectives an as a result we have witnessed an accelerating the fall in real wages, reductions in public monies assigned to the National Health Service, falls in number of nurses and police, increasing student debt and raising of the rents and house prices beyond the means of many. The rise in gig-employment and zero-hour contracts has resulted in a decline in gainful employment.

While all of this can be laid at the, mainly bolted, doors of the Bank of England, the government ideological commitment to "austerity" under the excuse of paying back debt and to reduce the deficit, is used to run down any means of supporting the increased number of paupers. The result has been an accelerated impoverishment so as to wind up with an increasing number of paupers, many of which are "employed".

The performance of the government's "policy" to reduce debt has resulted in a significant increase of debt.

1 Hector McNeill is the Director of SEEL-Systems Engineering Economics Lab

All content on this site is subject to Copyright
All copyright is held by © Hector Wetherell McNeill (1975-2020) unless otherwise indicated