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    Cradley Links

    Better Wages or Free Meals (1889)

    To the editor of The Times.

    It is with a feeling of grave apprehension that many thoughtful person's are watching the rapid growth of the movement for giving free meals to the necessitous children in our elementary schools. On the face of it nothing can well be more humane than to wish that every child shall be properly fed before being forced to work, but the consequences of allowing this strictly parental duty to devolve upon the charitable or proved far more serious than the irresponsible imagine.

    I do not hesitate to affirm that the effect on the country generally of this free meal movement will be as disastrous as was the system of Make wages, which prevailed under the Old Poor Law, when a labourers inadequate wages were want to be supplemented by allowances from the rates. the reasoning by which the public is to be induced to undertake the feeding of the children resolves itself simply into a statement that some labourers and so little that they actually cannot afford to give their children breakfast. it appears to me that this fact supplies ground, not so much for free meals which will perpetuate these small earnings, but for such wise helpfulness in the matter of trade organisation as shall raise a man's wages to the point at which he shall be in a position to feed his children himself.

    The average philanthropist, however, does not see this. in the low wages he deplores he is too apt to find an excuse for action which loves them still more.

    very forcibly was this true brought out lately by Lady Dilke, When she was urging a number of Cradley nail.and chain makers to join their local Union. “Charity is no good,” she told them; “ it is a mere delusion. the district visitors occasional half-crown is only a rate in aid of wages. If, for instance, a seamstress earning a starvation wage is given 2s. 6d. buy some kindly rich friend, the employer is actually enabled to get done for 7s. 6d. a week work for which he ought to pay 10s or 11s.”

    Nothing can be truer than this, but it must be remembered that what holds good of dols to workers applies also to meals to work as children. They, too, are a rate in aid of wages, and, as such, are to be distinctly reprobated.

    Trade organisation and cooperation, which secure to the workers as much of the rewards of industry as the conditions of trade allow, are the real panacea for the evils Mr Mundella dilated up on : wholesale meal mongering will but intensify and perpetuate them.

    I am, sir, yours faithfully,

    Ada Heather-Bigg,

    36, Harley Street.

    Better wages or free meals – The Times 11.11.1889
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