THE POOR LAW COMMISSION.—THE MAJORITY REPORT.
THERE are two ways of looking at the Poor Law 'problem. One way is that of the song the paupers used to sing in the days before the reforms of 1834: "Then drive away sorrow and banish all care, For the State it is bound to maintain us."
Here we have in its simplest form the expression of the principle that the individual need not worry himself to provide for unemployment or old age, or any other of the ills and accidents' of life, but may cheerfully leave all such things to the State. The other way of looking at the Poor Law problem is that which is embodied in the port of the Commissioners of 1834. That Report mar be•suinmed up by saying that it lays down the principle that though the State should help those who might perish without State assistance, its prime object, while giving help, y must be to prevent the manufacture of 'paupers. It denies an indefeasible right to maintenance in the citizen, and insists that as far as possible State aid to the destitute ' shall not put a premium upon thrift- lessness, idleness, vice, and want of self-restraint. The Present majority Report rejects the first of these ways, and adopts in spirit, if not in word, the second. It realises that the State,' however great the temptation to yield to the prOmptings of sentimental philanthropy, will spread moral as well as economic ruin throughout the land if it attempts to supplement the earnings of the poor,. or to give aid to men and women merely because they are poor. The State must confine itself to the relief of destitution which cannot be reached in other ways. And while it does this its aim must. be rather to supply a strengthening and invigorating impulse than to do for mon the work which they ought to do for themselves, —the work which Cannot be done for them without taking away from them that independence which is inseparable from the, status of a free man. Disguise it as we may, a man who is depeudent upon the community and not upon his own individual efforts is not a free man, but is in a condition of State servitude. However much he may claim them, he does not and cannot, enjoy the full privileges of citizen- Shift, There may be points in the majority Report which on future occasions we shall find it necessary to criti- cise in detail. Taken as a whole, however, the spirit informing it is one which those who regard the manu- facture of paupers as the deadliest peril of our day can accept with a full measure of satisfaction. The recommendations of the majority Report are one and all intended to avert the ruin which must fall upon us as a people if we adopt the policy of progressive pauperisa- tion which is now being pressed upon us from so many quarters. At present we are, as it were, in a train moving down the upper part of a steep incline with an abyss at the bottom. We have already gone a good deal too far down the incline fur safety, but it is still possible to apply the brakes and to check our descent. If we do not apply the brakes ,• but forget them altogether, and with a shout of " Pull steam ahead !" tear down the incline in the belief that at the bottom there is not an abyss awaiting us, but a run through a pleasant valley, we shall meet with the direst of national catastrophes. We must now' describe shortly the proposals of the majority Report. In the first place, Lord George Hamilton and his eolli3agnes consider that the present Poor Law area is too small. Just as the Commission of 1884 'Sought a remedy in the grouping of parishes into Unions, so the Commission of .1909 recommends the .grouping of Unions. The units they recommend are the county and the County borough. If their plan is adopted, the Poor Law Authority, or Public Assistance Authority as they prefer to call it, will be based' on the Council Of the county or of the county borough. But the Councils of 'the counties and county boroughs are already full of 'work, if not overworked. Therefore the Commissioners propose that statutory Committees shall be set up on the analogy of the Education Committees. These • bodies are to consist half ' of members of the County and Borough Councils and half of outside persons (nominated by the Councils) who have knowledge or characteristics fitting them for the work in question. In the case of London, however, it is recom- mended that one half of the co-opted members shall be chosen, not by the County Council, but by the Local' Government Board,—a very appropriate suggestion con.- ' sidering the immense difficulties connected with London Poor Law administration. These Public Assistance Authorities are to form below them Public Assistance Com- mittees, to whom the actual administrative work is to be entrusted. In addition (and upon this the Commissioners • lay, and rightly lay, no small stress), Voluntary Aid Councils and Committees are to be established, who will co-operate with the public bodies. Furthermore, the Public • Assistance Authorities will organise, provide, and maintain institutions necessary for the provision of assistance within their areas.
An essential point in the scheme is clearly the' duties' which will he performed by the Public Assistance Com- mittees, for it is these Committees that will coin° into perional touch with the recipients of relief. That being so, We cannot do better than quote verbatiin the duties of the Public Assistance Committees as they are set forth iu the Blue-book 1— "(a) To make careful inquiry into the circumstances and con- dition of all persons applying for assistance within their area . with a view to ascertaining the cause and nature of their distress.
(b) To review periodically the circumstances and condition of persons in receipt of assistance.
(0) To investigate the means of persons liable for maintenance and to take the measures necessary for the recovery of the cost of the assistance given.
(d) To subdivide their area when desirable for the purposes of local assistance, subject to the assent of the Public Assistance Authority. •
(e) To determine in the case of each person applying for or '• receiving assistance whether such person is by law entitled to Public Assistance.
CO To decide upon the best method of assisting applicants with a view to removing the cause of distress. (g) To co-operate with the Voluntary Aid Committee with' a view to the assistance of cases of distress.
(h) To co-operate with other public and voluntary agencies. (i) To inspect, supervise,'and administer the Public AssiStance Authority's institutions within their area and such other institu- tions as the Public Assistance Authority shall direct.
(j) To secure periodical visitation of all cases in receipt of Home . Assistance.
(k) To make half-yearly an estimate of their expenditure and' requirements, and submit it to the Public Assistance Authority, who shall from time to time remit such sum or sums as may be: necessary.
(/) To control and supervise the officers assigned to them by the Public' Assistance Authority.
(m) To furnish the Public Assistance Authority from time to time with ouch information concerning the proceedings and-work of the Committee as the Authority.may require.
(n) 'Pb discharge such other duties as the Public Assistance , Authority may, from time to time, call upon them to undertake."
In addition, the majority Report recommends that the Charity Commission shall become a department of t he Local Government Board, and that the status of the Local Government Board' shall be raised by the President. becoming a Secretary of State, the Department being• also reorganised.
We now come to the lines upon which the reformed. Poor Law is to be administered. Though the Coirunis- sioners • set themselves strongly against the idea of the breaking up of the Poor Law recommended by the, minority Report, they favour a very drastic readjustmeuel This readjustment is to be governed by four priuciplegs' which are specifically 'laid down. The treatment ,i1 those who receive public assistance is (1) to be 'adapt/ed. to the' needs of the individual, and, if given institutionally, should be governed by classification ; (2) there is to be co.-operation' with the local and private charities of the district ; (3) the system of public institutions is to include " processes of help" which will be " preventative, curative, and restora- tive "; (4) every effort is to be made " to foster instincts of independence and self-maintenance amongst those assisted." In applying these principles, the Commissioners return to the intention of the Commission of 1834. That Commission intended that the workhouse should be the place in which the able-bodied could be set, to work, and that for the other recipients of indoor relief provision should be made in separate and suitable institutions. Accordingly they recommend that in future general workhouses shall be aboliShed, and that indoor relief shall be given in separate institu- tions appropriate to the following classes of applicants (1) children ; (2) aged and infirm ; (3) sick ; (4) able- bodied men ; (5) able-bodied women ; (6) vagrants ; (7) the feeble-minded and epileptics. In order to make this classification a reality, all indoor cases are to be revised from time to time, and powers of removal to and detention in institutions are to be given, with proper safeguards, to the Public Assistance Authority. The treatment of inmates is to be made as far as possible curative and restorative. Finally—and this is a principle to which we ourselves attach the very greatest importance—in every institution for the aged and able-bodied a system of classification is to be adopted on the basis of conduct before as well as after admission. In other words, men and women are not to be made to feel that, no matter how they conduct their lives—whether with or without fore- thought, control, and the avoidance of vice and crime— the treatment which they will receive at the hands of a beneficent State will be identical.
The first point that arises out of these principles is the vexed question of outdoor relief, or "home assistance," as the majority Commissioners prefer to call it. While condemning the present system of outdoor relief, they do not recommend its abolition, " partly because we hold that if our proposals are adopted the need of it will gradually disappear." Home assistance, however, is only to be given after thorough inquiry, except in cases of sudden and urgent necessity. Persons who are assisted are to be subject to supervision, including the conditions, moral and sanitary, under which the recipients are living. No doubt these recommendations will receive a good deal of criticism, but such criticism we shall not attempt to fore- stall. Though recognising the soundness of the intentions of the Commissioners in this respect, we prefer for the present to maintain a neutral attitude. After recom- mendations on behalf of the children which we cannot help thinking will receive very general support, and certain observations on the aged which also have much to recommend them, the Commissioners make some notable proposals in regard to medical relief and its reorganisation. For medical relief a contribution at the hands of those likely to claim it is suggested. Here, no doubt, many difficulties arise. We do not say that they are in any way insuperable, but they are certain to be the cause of acute controversy. We must for the present pass over the passages in the Report which deal with voluntary aid organisation and invalidity insurance, nor can we treat in detail the sections which deal with the able-bodied and unemployment. Very important, however, are the recommendations dealing with education. The Commissioners favour pro- posals : (1) that boys should be kept at school until the age of fifteen ; (2) that exemption below this age should be granted only for boys leaving to learn a skilled trade; (3) that there should be school supervision till sixteen, and replacement in school of boys not properly employed. The Commissioners believe that there is urgent need of improved facilities for technical -education being offered to young people after the present age for leaving school. They also consider that to prevent the deterioration of physique it is necessary that physical drill should be more ....prolonged and thorough than it has hitherto been. Although they are not unanimous on this point, Some of fdiem believe that " the most effective and thorough milIfiltral- of infusing into boys approaching adolescence a sense of ,discipline and self-restraint, both physical and moral, and of improving their physique for subsequent industrial occupations, would be a universal system of a short periQd a military lialuing." Next come the very important proposals for the treatment of the vagrant, the loafer, and the " work-shy," —men who, together with the bond-fide unemployed, are now all treated as able-bodied paupers. The able-bodied man out of employment is to be treated under the following methods :— " (1) Home Assistance, on condition of daily work, which will be available for men of good character requiring only temporary employment.
(2) Industrial and Agricultural Institutions and Laboiir Colonies, with classification for those whose iudnstrial antecedents perhaps are not so good, or who require more prolonged treatment. (3) Detention Colonies under the Home Office to which the ins-and-outs,' the work-shy, and the loafer will be committed for periods of detention and training."
This means, if the recommendations are adopted, that reformatory treatment on an adequate scale will be in future dealt out to the tramp and the wastrel, and that our roads, parks, and public spaces will be cleared of those terrible examples of human degradation which now encumber them. Some of these unfortunate creatures are unquestionably reclaimable, but at present no serious effort is made to reclaim them. Detention for a year or two in it colony where they would be made to work under strict reformatory discipline might often effect a cure. Where a cure proves impossible, their contaminating influence should be withdrawn from the community. For we must never forget that it is not the well-to-do who really suffer from the tramp and loafing blackguard, but the respectable poor. We have unfortunately left ourselves very little space in which to discuss the final message to their fellow- countrymen with which those who sign the majority Report take leave of their work. We desire, however, to quote the last paragraph, for it is one which the nation would do well to lay to heart. Remember that those who thus speak to us are not men and women who have taken a hurried or superficial view of existing conditions. They have come to this terrible conclusion—we can use no other word—after some three years of most patient, nay, arduous, study. Remember, too, that many of them were not new to the work, but had already devoted their lives to the consideration of the state of the poor :— ". Land of Hope and Glory' is a popular and patriotic lyric sung each year with rapture by thousands of voices. The enthusiasm is partly evoked by the beauty of the idea itself, but more by the belief that Great Britain does, above other countries, merit this oulogium, and that the conditions in existence hero are such that the fulfilment of hope and the achievehient of glory are more open to the individual than iu other and less favoured lands. To certain classes of the community into whose moral and material condition it has been our duty to enquire, these words are a mockery and a falsehood. To many of thorn, possibly from their own failure and faults, there is in this life but little hope and to ninny more `glory' or its realisation is an unknown ideal. Our investigations prove the existence in our midst of a class whose condition and environment are a discredit, and a peril to the whole Community. Each and every section of society has a oominon duty to perform in combating this evil and contracting its area, a ditty which can only be performed by united and untiring effort to convert useless and costly inefficients into self- sustaining and respectable members of the community. No country, however rich, can permanently hold its own in the race of international competition, if hampered by an increasing load of this dead weight ; or can successfully perform the role of Sovereignty beyond the seas, if a portion of its own folk at home are sinking below the civilization and aspirations of its subject races abroad."