New PDF release: An Introduction to the Voluntary Sector

By Justin Smith

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In the light of such evidence the notion that poverty was a moral issue rather than a structural one (a notion which was central to the separate spheres argument) began to lose its credibility. Jane Lewis (1993) has argued that the debate at this time began to shift away from the deserving/ undeserving split towards a THE VOLUNTARY TRADITION 23 helpable/unhelpable split—which removed the moral dimension from discussions on poverty. Nowhere was the failure of the voluntary response more apparent than in the area of housing.

The work of Thomas Chalmers in Glasgow pre-dates much of the work of the Society, as does the Elberfeld system of relief in Germany (see Young and Ashton 1956). In Liverpool there were earlier attempts by William Rathbone to link together the main relief agencies (Simey 1992). But the COS was the most important such coordinating charity, not so much for what it achieved at the time, but for the impact it had on contemporary debate on social policy and for the legacy it left for the future development of social casework and visiting.

But beyond this general impression that guilds formed an important element of civil society we cannot go. What we do know is that the guilds were decimated by the Reformation which, along with the dissolution of the monasteries, swept away chantries and religious fraternities, and, although they saw a brief revival during the restoration of the old religion under the reign of Mary, they never regained their pre-eminent position. But the legacy of the guilds, with their emphasis on mutual support and democratic control, lived on and THE VOLUNTARY TRADITION 29 was to re-emerge with the development of the friendly society movement in the late eighteenth century.

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