Statement by STEPHEN OLDMAN J.P. to the

Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and the relief of distress 1906

1. I was elected a rural district councillor October 1895, second vice chairman of the Board of Guardians April 24th 1896, first vice chairman April 19th 1901; and Chairman April 18th 1902 which office I continue to hold

2. Our union is the eighteenth largest in area in England, and by far the largest in the eastern counties, being 138729 acres in extent. The population was 20366 in 1901. The rateable value is 107996.

3. With regard to the social and industrial conditions, the people are principally agricultural labourers, but in one or two towns in our union there are some small factories. The regular labourer's wages in our union would be from 12s to 13s per week with an additional amount of about 2s to 3s average for haysel and harvest during the year. In the small town of Brandon a large amount of wages is earned by the women and men in furrying. In Thetford we have severeal large maltings where the men earn upon the average during the season 21s per week, also a large agricultural engineering works [Burrells] where the men can earn as labourers 18s per week, and the mechanics from 35s to 70s per week.

4. The rent of houses in rural parts is from 50s to 90s per year, rates being paid by the landlord. In the towns the rates are as high as 6s in the pound, and rents much higher, ranging from 6 to 8 per year, rates in towns being paid by tenants.

5. We have not experimented, beyond boarding out as many children as possible.

6. All those persons who are known to have led honest and industrious lives should be treated much more liberally with outdoor relief than they are at present, provided some one is able to take care of them if they are unable to do so themselves.

7. The classes of persons applying for relief are mostly men and women of honest and industrious habits who have had too large a family and a very limited income which has proved insufficient to provide for old age. Others are the victims of drink and the general ne'er do wells.

8. The causes of pauperism are many. Amongst them drink, low wages, old age, many of the latter living beyond their capacity to work, and there are also the physically and mentally weak.

9. The persons seeking election as guardians are clergymen, landowners and agents, farmers, tradesmen with some philanthropic ladies and gentlemen

10. Relief is given in money and kind according to the circumstances of each individual case brought before us

11. I would suggest:

----------(1) The carrying out of an old age pension scheme for the industrious poor at the age of sixty five

----------(2) A further amalgamation of union areas, and so to effect a reduction of officialism

----------(3) Some houses should be set aside for harmless imbeciles, others as infirmaries for the physically weak and the rest required to be used
----------for the able-bodied ne'er do wells, with greater powers of detention and remunerative work enforced

----------(4) For hereditary and habitual tramps, greater powers of detention and separation for their natural lives; these also to be put to work
---------- of a remunerative character

----------(5) To those who have only temporarily fallen and are willing to work, a system should be devised to help them on to places where
---------- work can be obtained

click here to return to the Oldman branch