Deserving poor

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I AM writing to explain the origins of the term the “deserving poor” (Perspective, 5 April).

The medieval Catholic Church insisted all Christians must undertake works of mercy such as feeding the poor, caring for the sick and clothing the naked. Sadly the reformers’ fear of creating moral hazards meant that the state had to intervene with measures of relief which gradually coalesced into various sets of poor laws.

Yet by the dawn of the Victorian Age, the Malthusian bien pensant in England were arguing that Elizabethan poor laws actually encouraged irresponsibly large families.

In Scotland, Calvin’s double-predestination inferred that even if poverty was not the fault of the poor themselves, it certainly looked as if it was the “will of God”. It was to give protection against such fundamentalism that Thomas Chalmers, the greatest Scottish cleric since John Knox, introduced the idea of the “deserving poor”.

He made “deserving” as all-
embracing as possible so it is quite wrong to claim that his use of the term was heartless when in fact his intentions were quite the reverse.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place
St Andrews