COS and Beatrice Webb [Potter]:

The World of Philanthropy:
[194] The world of politics in the seventies and eighties was intimately associated with the world of philanthropy. ... [195] there arose, among the more enlightened philanthropists, a reactionary movement --- a movement more potent in deterrence than the arguments of ratiocinating philosophers or the protests of cross-bench politicians, because it was based on the study of facts, and took the form of an alternative scheme for grappling, then and there, with the problem of poverty. And here I bring on the stage my friend the enemy --- the Charity Organisation Society --- one of the most typical of mid-Victorian social offspring. ... in these years of my apprenticeship (1883-1887) the COS appeared to me as an honest though short-circuited attempt to apply the scientific method of observation and experiment, reasoning and verification, to the task of delivering the poor from their miseries by the personal service and pecuniary [196] assistance tendered by their leisured and wealthy fellow-citizens.

The leading spirits of COS, ... had been ... its founders --- Octavia Hill, Samuel Barnett, W.H.Fermantle, and a younger man who had recently become its sectretary and was to become its chief protagonist --- C.S.Loch. These initiators of charity organisation were all of them distinguished of moral fervour and intellectual integrity. The immediate purpose of the Society was to organise all forms of charitable assistance so as to prevent overlapping and competition between the innumerable and heteroganeous agencies. ... [197] ... the three principles ...: patient and persistent personal service on the part of the well-to-do; an acceptance of personal responsibility for the ulterior consequences, alike to the individual recipient and others who might be indirectly affected, of charitable assistance; and finally, as the only way of carrying out this service and fulfilling this responsibility, the application of the scientific method to each separate case of a damaged body or a lost soul; so that the assistance given should be based on a correct forecast of what would actually happen, as a result of the gift, to the character and circumstances of the individual recipient and to the destitute class to which he belonged.

[...][198] ... the subversive character of the movement, alike in thought and feeling, initiated by the founders of COS. ... To the pioneer of the new philanthropy, "to give unto every one who asketh thee" was a mean and cruel form of self-indulgence.

[200] The belief --- it may almost be called an obsession --- that the mass-misery of great cities arose mainly, if not entirely, from spasmodic, indiscriminate and unconditional doles, whether in the form of alms or in that of Poor Law relief, was, in the sixties and seventies, the common opinion of such enlightened members of the governing class as were interested in the problem of poverty. Their hypothesis seemed to be borne out alike by personal observation, the teaching of history and the deduction of the Political Economists.

[201] All enlightened philanthropy was to be concentrated on the "deserving", the others being left to a penal Poor Law. Any such demarcation was, however, soon found impracticable. It was only in a small proportion of extreme cases, on one side ot the other, that any confident judgement could be pronounced as to whether the past life of an unfortunate family had or had not been marked, not only by freedom from patent vice or crime, but by such a degree of consistent sobriety, industry, integrity and thrift as warranted its classification among the deserving. Moreover, [202] any such classification by merit was found to have no relation to the necessary classification according to needs. The most deserving cases often proved to be those whom it was plainly impossible to help effectively either by money or by the philanthropic jobbery that got its favourites into situations. Most numerous were the cases of chronic sickness, or those needing prolonged and expensive medical treatment. Others, again, were hopeless without a complete change of environment. There were innumerable other varieties ruled out, in practice, because any adequate dealing with them involved an expense altogether beyond the means available. Eventually the COS was driven to drop the criterion of desert; "the test is not whether the applicant be deserving but whether he is heplable" (Principles of Deceision, COS Papers, No.5). ... No relief was to be given that was not "adequate", that is to say such as could be hoped, in due time, to render the person or family self-supporting. No relief was to be given where the person was either so bad in point of character, or so chronic in need, as to be capable of permanent restoration to the ranls of the self-supporting. All "hopeless" cases --- that is, persons whom there was no hoppeful prospect of rendering permanently self-supporting (perhaps "because no suitable charity exists") --- were, however blameless and morally deserving had been their lives, to behanded over to the semi-penal Poor Law. ... But it is difficult to see how they could be made consistent with the duty, persistently inculcated, of personal friendship with the poor. The intruder in the poor man's hovel, mixing regorous questioning as to the conduct and income of every member of the family with expressions of friendly sympathy, was supposed finally to decide [203] in innumerable instances that the case, though thoroughly deserving, was so desperately necessirous as to be incapable of adequate help. and so hopeless of permanent restoration that no aid whatsoever could possibly be given. The one dorr opened by these "friends of the poor" to all those they were unable to help privately, deserving as well as undeserving, was that of the workhouse with its penal discipline "according to the principles of 1834".

[203] The theory and practice of the COS, in spite of its vogue among those who counted themselves enlightened, found small acceptance among the Christian Churches, any more than among the impulsive givers of alms. ... [204] Instead of servig as a co-ordinating body to all the other charities, in order to prevent their harmful overlapping and wasteful competition, the COS became itself the most exclusive sects, making a merit of disapproving and denouncing mush of the practice of other charitable agencies ...; and at the same time failing to obtain anything like the army of personal "friends of the poor", or anything approaching the great amount of money, that would have enabled it to cope, on its own principles, with the vast ocean of poverty that had somehow to be dealt with.

[205]...Within a decade [from 1834] Edwin Chadwick had become as infatuated an advocate of positive municipal action in the provision of drainage, paving, water supply, open spaces, improved dwellings, hospitals and what not, as he had ever been of the stoppage of outdoor relief and charitable doles. But the COS had apparently forgotten the experience of the forerunners. ...
The common basis underlying the principle of restricting private charity to exceptional cases, and the analogous but not necessarily related principle of governmental laisser-faire, is easily discovered. However well aware these estimable leaders of the COS may have been of personal shortcommings, they, [206]... had not the faintest glimmer of what I have called "the consciousness of collective sin".

[207] The break-away of Samuel and Hentietta Barnett in 1866 from the narrow and continuously hardening dogma of the COS sent a thrill through the philanthropic world of London. ... during the intervening twelve years' residence in the very midst of the worst misery of the East End of London, the Barnetts had followed in the footsteps of Robert Chalmers and Edwin Chadwick.