Jane Lewis, The Voluntary Sector, the State and Social Work in Britain [1995].

1The COS is worth exploring in terms of its ideas as well as its practice because it focused and openly discussed so many of the dilemmas of the late Victorian period, dilemmas that still have purchase. COS leaders interrogated themselves and each other as to whether the tenets of classical political economy could be reconciled with the Christian injuction to give; as to the relative importance of economics and morals, and character and ciecumstances; and as to whether men were motivated more by altruism or by selfishness, They did not shy away from the big questions and were not afraid to form a view on them.
12For even though histrians can rightly play down the role of the COS in the wider world of philanthropy ... , it is impossible to ignore its presence in the policy-making arena. ... the lack of opposition to the number of COS representatives on the 1905-1909 Royal Commission on the Poo Law ... was a sign of wide acceptance of basic COS views in informed circles in Edwardian times. ... they were thought to be common-sense.
25Even among the leading members of the COS, there was something od a devide between people like ... Lock, the influential secretary of the Society from 1875 to 1914, and Bernard Bosanquet, academic philosopher and mamber of the Council of the London COS, whose work was central in reformulating charity as a social principle, and those such as Thomas Mackay and W.A. Bailward, who were more inclined to frame the COS within the much narrower and harsher principles of classical political economy.
27Charity and Malthusian Political Economy:
At the theoretical lecel, the COS had to seek to reconcile the older religious motivation to love one's neighbour and the poor with the doctrines of the classical economists, who warned of the perils of public and voluntary expenditure on the poor, which would in their viwq only serve further to demoralise and pauperise. Following the ideas of ... Malthus ..., economists believed that pupulation tended to outrun subsistence, a state of affairs that could only be exacerbated by giving the poor money which would allow them to subsist and further procreate. Lacking a theory of demand, classical economic theory could only envisage expenditure on the poor as essentially unproductive. Poverty in and of itself was regarded as inevitable and something of a spur to effort, The evil was pauperism, or destitution, the causes of which were believed to lie with the individual rather than in situations and structures beyond the individual's control. Thus pauperism became in large measure a moral issue even within economic theory. ...
However, for Loch and Bosanquet true charity meant more than the application of the principles of political economy.
33Individualism for COS:
The cantral place given to social work shows the distance between members of the COS and unrelenting laissez-faire individualists, such as Herbert Spencer. The COS did not believe in standing back from the problem of poverty, and Bernard Bosanquet [1890] rejected the idea of an oopposition between individualism and collectivism, preferring to see them as positions on a spectrum of ideas. While the COS was committed to voluntary rather than statutory social work, there existed, as Collini has observed, a hegemonic set of assumpions regarding duty and service to others [Collini, 1979, 49]. The commitment to voluntary social work was a commitment to social action. In fact, to the COS and to many other social reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, individualism meant something more than anti-statism, referring to the preference for tackling social problems by treating the needs of individuals in a holistic fashion within the context of the family, as well as for keeping state intervention to a minimum. In Lock's view, 'the key success in charity lies in persistent care for the individual in close connection with the family and in descerning and friendly aid, according to the needs of the particular case' [Loch 1904, 5]. The test of charity was the successful promotion of economic independence and fully participative citizens [Loch 1923]. Social work with individuals and families was the means of achieving this; no social advance was possible without individual improvement.
48Definition of its Client Group:
[...] it was far from clear how the Society was to differentiate its client group from that of the poor law. Could ... the COS help a particular family member if the rest of the family was receiving poor law relief? What was the Society to do with a respectable, elderly couple seeking help, or with a genuinely deserted wife? The answers were various, for the COS was a federal organisation and its local district committees were autonomous in the conduct od their affairs, just as the provincial societies were keft free to decide whether to affiliate to the London parent body. The Council of London COS was convinced that its sphere of operations had to be kept completely separate from that of the poor law. ... its committees would thoroughly investigate an applicant and decide whether charitable help was appropriate. ... the main critarion for such a decision was whether the applicant was deemed to be deserving. However, the Society did lay down other criteria with regard to the level and form of assistance. It aimed to provide adequate assistance and only to give it in cases where some permanent improvement could be expected. This made 'chronic cases' very difficult to adjudicate. ... However, the pull of doing something for the deserving was strong. In 1875, Octavia Hill reported that in Marylebone the COS committee had sropped giving anything to the single able-bodied and had thus been able to make regular allowances from a small fund to such cases, and in 1878, Sir Charles Trevelyan proposed that the COS make systematic provision for deserving chronic cases. See 'Chronic Cases', Charity Orgenisation Reporter, 7 March 1878, 45.
49Co-operation with Poor Law:
[...] In 1878, 24 of 31 COS district committees reported having guardians as members, but in omly four London districts was a thoroughly organised system of relief worked out between the COS and the poor law. The position in the provinces was similar. A Society such as the Loverpool Central Relief Society affiliated to the London COS but declared that it would conrinue to act primarily as a straightforward relief society. Societies explicitly adopting the ideas of the Goschen Minute were rare and, even where cooperation in terms of cross-membership was achieved, as in Oxford, it did not follow that the COS and the guardians cooperated at the level of dealing with individual cases [Humphreys 1991]. ... [50] ... in the work of organising charity, the COS continually complained of lack of cooperation from the parish clergy, who persisted in more traditional forms of district visiting and in the indiscriminate forms of charitable giving that accompanied.