Showing posts with label bill knox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bill knox. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blast from the Past

Bill Knox, a one time member of Edinburgh branch of the SPGB,  produces some interesting facts from the 19th and early 20thcentury

The Inequality

In Scotland in 1867 by 10% of the population received over 50% of national income. Those in the top 1% of income earners annually received 200 times more than the bottom 30%. Some of these men were fabulously rich, with industrialists such as ironmaster James Baird leaving an estate worth £1,190,868 on his death in 1876. The uneven distribution of wealth is also shown in the fact that only 12% of Scots had estates worth making a will for in 1881, and that the yearly wage for a well-paid skilled worker, such as a compositor, only amounted to £78 in 1880. The skilled worker would have had to have worked for over 15,000 years before he could have earned what Baird left on his death.
The super-rich were followed by the substantial middle classes whose average annual income was around £145 in 1867. They enjoyed a lifestyle which revolved around work, family and the kirk. Although they did not enjoy the social trappings of the super-rich, which included lavish houses and country estates, they experienced all this on reduced scale. What marked them out from the rest of Scottish society was servant-keeping. Over 55% of female workers in Edinburgh in 1871, although somewhat less in Dundee and Glasgow, were employed as domestic servants.

By the 1890s the picture might have seemed rosy: economic growth was inducing complementary improvements in the standard of living which, in turn, was actively transforming the social experiences of the Scottish people. However, much of this was a delusion.

Between 1901 to 1910 net emigration was running at the equivalent of 52% of the natural increase in the population, or some 282,000 people. Although many of the emigrants  were from the Lowland towns, the numbers leaving the Highlands were still significant. The collapse of the fishing industry in the 1880s had impoverished many crofters and they were unable to afford the rents on their crofts. This led to rent strikes and land grabbing and provoked retaliatory measures in the form of evictions by the landlords. The result was the Crofters' Wars of the mid-1880s. The Highlands and Islands remained poor, with agricultural wages in 1907 13% below the British average. As much as 34% of the total land area of the crofting counties of the Scottish Highlands was given over to deer stalking in 1914. Hunting lodges proliferated costing anything between £10,000-£70,000 for the more palatial to £3,000-£6,000 for the more modest. Although activity in this respect created employment for builders and gamekeepers, the gains were more than offset by the decline in the number of shepherds. Spending was of little benefit to local suppliers as the rich brought their supplies of food and wine from Glasgow or London. As one contemporary put it, the popularity of deer stalking turned the Highlands into the happy hunting grounds of the rich.

In spite of reform in 1845, the Poor Law still discriminated against the able-bodied poor. Under the 'Law of Settlement' the Irish were singled out for particularly harsh treatment, with regular deportations. Spending on the poor was also parsimonious. Expenditure increased from £740,000 in 1864 to £1,600,000 in 1914, but this was still grossly deficient in relation to need. It was also less than expenditure in England. Indeed, the latter on average spent a third more on its poor than Scotland did. For those in work outside the skilled trades the picture was not much better. Women earned much less than men and there was a large gulf between the skilled and unskilled worker.

The Slums

An indicator of poverty - the infant mortality rate - increased as the 19th century wore on. The rate increased from 118 per 1,000 live births in the period 1854-1859 to 122 in 1904- 1905; a figure much higher than that for England and Wales. This was primarily the result of poverty but it also had an obvious connection with housing conditions. In Glasgow 32% of all children who died before the age of five in the late 1890s lived in one apartment houses. The 1861 census had showed that 34% of all Scottish housing consisted of only one room - the 'single end' - and a further 37% consisted of two rooms. Fifty years later the census showed that while the number of people living in one-roomed houses declined to 13% of the total, the number of those living in two-roomed houses remained high at 41% of the total. Of course, in the large cities the situation was much worse. Glasgow still had two-thirds of its population in this type of cramped accommodation, as did Dundee. A survey of Edinburgh in 1913 revealed that there were over 7,000 one-roomed houses, of which 94% shared a common water closet and 43% a common sink. In Glasgow there were 44,345 such houses and of these 93% shared a toilet, but most had their own sink. The position was not much better in Glasgow's 111,451 two-roomed houses as 62% of them shared a toilet. There was a need for good quality public sector housing let at rents people could afford, but the dominance of property owners and their interests on town councils blocked such a move. The public health measures introduced in the  large urban centres in the 1850s and 60s were ignored by smaller towns and villages. Lochgelly in Fife in 1867 had two toilets for a population of 2,000. Sewage was thrown on the streets where it seeped through the ground surface into a mine well from which the public water supply was drawn.

Lloyd George's election slogan 'Homes fit for Heroes' led to the passing of the Addison Act of 1919. This began a programme of house building in the public sector. Local authority building in Scotland was responsible for over 50% of new housing in 1934, while in England it was only around 20% which was to intensify after the 2nd World War and leave Scotland in the 60s with a higher state ownership of housing than most Eastern Bloc countries. However, in spite of the general expansion of the public sector, it was still a fact that most of the population of the leading cities were living in one or two roomed houses, with Dundee and Glasgow by far the worse. Those in most need of re-housing were put off applying for a new council house because of the high cost. In Dundee the yearly cost in 1926 of a four apartment house on the Craigiebank estate was estimated to be 52% of the average textile wage, and a three apartment at the Logie estate was 46%. As a result most of the new tenants tended to be from the white collar or the skilled working class.

The 'Godless Poor'

A survey carried out in 1900 showed that the unskilled did not attend church in large numbers. In mining areas evangelists found it difficult to win converts; in industrial Hamilton the presbytery found that from one-fifth to a half of Protestant families did not attend church in the 1890s. Ten years earlier in one area of Glasgow noted for its unskilled working population only two out of every seven men surveyed had any connection with the church. In spite of the abolition of pew rents, the working class was still alienated from the church and its ministry. The exception was the Catholic Church.

Religion divided Scotland on sectarian lines. Catholic Irish families suffered from the prejudices of presbyterian Scotland. They were depicted by the media and the pulpit as uncivilised and drunken, idle and lazy. The same did not apply to Irish Protestants who migrated in large numbers in the 1870s and 1880s to Clydeside. The growing large Irish Protestant population increased religious tensions as they brought their Orange Lodges with them. By 1913-1914 Glasgow had 107 Orange Lodges out of a total of 400 for the whole of the United Kingdom, and certain occupations, such as boilermaking, were recruited for on a religious basis. Prejudice and discrimination combined to keep the Catholic Irish at the bottom of the heap. Insecurity fuelled sectarianism rivalries. Reacting to the decision in 1918 to provide for Catholic schooling out of local taxation, the Protestant churches led a racist anti-Irish Catholic crusade. In 1923 the Church of Scotland issued a pamphlet condemning the Irish as a 'menace' to the Scottish race and kept up a stream of anti-Irish propaganda throughout the 1920s. This set the tone for more extremist Protestant organisations to make headway as the economic depression grew worse after 1929. At a time when the main churches were losing members in droves, the Scottish Protestant League in Glasgow and the Protestant Action Society in Edinburgh made spectacular gains in local elections, with the latter also carrying out a policy of attacking and harassing Catholic gatherings. Glasgow also faced the problem of sectarian gang warfare which emanated from football. The Billy Boys supported Rangers, while their rivals the Norman Conks identified with Celtic.