In Stave One, two gentlemen collecting Christmas donations for the poor and unfortunate inhabitants of London visit Scrooge at his business and proceed to ask him for a generous donation. Scrooge replies by asking the gentlemen if there are no prisons or Union workhouses open and refuses to give a donation. When the men reply that they are still functioning but many people in need would rather die than to stay there, Scrooge responds by saying,
If they would rather die...they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
Later on, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's home, where he sees Tiny Tim, who is crippled and in poor health. Scrooge is moved by the sight of Tiny Tim and empathizes with the child's difficult situation. He desperately wishes to see Tiny Tim survive and begins to worry about his well-being. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim will live, the ghost responds using Scrooge's earlier remarks to emphasize Ebenezer's callousness by saying, "What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Upon hearing the ghost's response, Scrooge feels ashamed of himself and is overcome with "penitence and grief."