After Scrooge's nephew leaves his office, having been roundly scolded, two "portly gentlemen" arrive. It is Christmas Eve, and these two kindhearted men are collecting money for the poor and destitute. They explain to Scrooge that many lack basic necessities this time of year.
Scrooge refuses to believe it. He asks whether or not there are still prisons and workhouses. He also mentions the treadmill and the Poor Law. In a time before the existence of a social welfare state, these were government programs meant to deter the poor from asking for government help. Nobody wanted to go to prison, and the workhouses had very high mortality rates. Most people would be as likely to go a workhouse voluntarily as to a concentration camp. The treadmill was punitive, pointless "work" forced on destitute people in exchange for the bare necessities of life. The Poor Law decreed that taxes be collected to help the poor, but as people didn't want to pay these taxes, the Poor Law mostly hounded people out of the neighborhood in which they lived so that nobody would have to pay to help them.
The two men agree that all of these terrifying and inhumane institutions exist. As one of the men drily asserts:
Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude ... a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
Scrooge refuses to help, telling the men that the poor should go to above mentioned places, such as the workhouse. One of the men replies:
Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.
Scrooge says he is content to let them die and rid England of their surplus population. At this point, the men leave.