14 OCTOBER 1922, Page 6


the Ministry of Health, which deals with the year 1921-22, is throughout a very interesting document. The part of it with which we wish to deal on the present occasion is Part 3 : " Adminis- tration of the Poor Law." This section enables us to take stock of the present situation and to see how things stand in the great and permanent problem of Poor Relief. Especi- ally important is such stocktaking just now, for under a variety of schemes, some half-fledged, some fully fledged, some only in the egg, we have set up a new system, intended to enable the State to play the part which the Roman Emperor of the decadence called that of " universal bene- factor," or, as some of us will say, universal pauperizer.

The first thing to be noted is that, while setting up new forms of Poor Relief (we do not call them so now, but our reticence in nomenclature does not alter the facts), we have not done away with the old system. True to our Constitutional methods, we have supplemented, not dis- placed. The Guardians, the Unions, and all the old official army are still with us, and watch the new recruits at work. Necessarily, therefore, there is a goad deal of overlapping, or, to put it in another way, the would-be recipient of. State help has quite a wide choice of the way in which he can get relief. Further, if he is at all ingenious, he can manage to pick up simultaneous and concurrent relief from three or four sources, and so double, or even quadruple, the amount of his grant. This overlapping, of course, is by itself a serious matter. But what makes it terribly unfortunate at the present moment is that it involves a ghastly burden upon the taxpayer. And remember here that taxpayers are not the race of million- aires depicted in the Radical and Socialistic Press. Large numbers of them are almost, or indeed quite, as poor as many of the recipients of State charity. The difference between them is not an economic but a moral difference. One set of people value independence above all things ; the other are content to be dependent.

Part 3, of which we have already spoken, begins with an ominous paragraph, headed " Administration of Poor Law —Numbers Relieved." Here is the passage :—.- "The gradual increase in the number of persons in receipt of relief, which began in the middle of the financial year 1918-19 and was accelerated in the year 1920-21, had, at the beginning of the year under review, notwithstanding the diminished number in receipt of institutional relief, brought the numbers practically to the pre-war level. Indeed, the number of persons in receipt of domiciliary relief on the 26th March, 1921, was 449,612, a proportion of one in 84 of the estimated population, a total figure and a proportion which had not been previously exceeded since the coal dispute of March, 1912. The dispute in the eoal-mining industry, which began on the 1st April, and ended on the 1st July, naturally led to a large increase in the numbers relieved. A notable feature of this increase was that in a number of Unions it was not gradual, but sudden, and followed immediately on the beginning of the dispute. From the end of March to the beginning of July there was a continuous and rapid increase of the total numbers relieved from 653,500, equivalent to one in 58 of the estimated population, to 1,363,121, equivalent to one in 28. The highest comparable number previously recorded was 1,105,234 about the 1st January, 1863, the time of the Cotton Famine. The only other years since 1849 in which over a million persons were in receipt of relief on or about the 1st January are 1864 and 1868-71 inclusive. The pro- portion of the population in receipt of relief had not been equalled since 1873. The conclusion of the dispute was.marked by an immediate decline in numbers. But the fall barely exceeded half the increase of the previous three months, and on the 6th August 931,389 persons were in receipt of relief. The more lasting effects of the dispute, coupled with the great depression in trade, the exhaustion of unemployment benefit, and the usual seasonal causes, checked the fall in numbers by the end of August, and by the 5th November 1,519,823 persons, or 156,702 more than on the 2nd July, were in receipt of relief."

The Report goes on to make a very significant comment :- " It is noteworthy that the number of persons in receipt of relief at the end of March, 1922, excluding the two classes mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph, was 607,000 persons insured under the Unemployment Acts. The total number in receipt of relief at the end of the last financial year before the War was 644,000. There has in the interval been a considerable development under social legislation, as for example the increase in the rate of old age pensions, maternity and child welfare work, school feeding, and the schemes of national health and unemployment insurance."

In other words, our new system of relief has not, as most people, we think, had hoped, sidetracked the old Poor Law. The new doles are additional.

The next paragraph of special interest in the Report is that which deals with the policy of the Department. Hero it is pleasant to note that the Poor Law experts at the Ministry of Health, whom the Ministry of Health took over from the Local Government Board, are still strong in-their adoption of what we might call Charity Organization principles :— " (1) The amount of relief given in any case, while sufficient for the purposes of relieving distress, must of necessity be calculated on a lower scale than the earnings of the independent workman who is maintaining himself by his labour.

" (2) Relief should not be given without full investigation of the circumstances of each applicant.

" (3) The greater proportion of the relief given in the case of able-bodied applicants should be given in specified articles of kind, and in suitable cases it should be made a condition that the relief shall be repaid by the recipient."

These principles have their origin in the old Poor Law Report of 1834, and are primarily meant to combat the claim to an inherent and indefeasible right in the indi- vidual to demand that work shall be found for him. What that meant in practice was that it was not a man's own business, but the business of the State, to find him work. In fact, it meant the adoption of that wonderful old song 'which the paupers used to sing :- " Then drive away sorrow And banish all care,

For the Parish is bound to maintain us."

Not content with pointing out what the Unions ought to do, attention is called to the errors of practice which are shown by the actions of many Unions. These errors are as follows :-

" (1) Unwillingness to take proceedings in cases in which relief has been obtained by false statements. " (2) Failure to give in kind at least part of the relief of the able-bodied ;

" (3) Diversion of the relief staff from their duties of investigation by requiring them to undertake the checking and payment of tradesmen's bills for relief in kind ;

" (4) Failure so to increase temporarily the relief staff as to secure adequate investigation of applications for relief and the regular visitation of recipients ; " (5) Failure to co-ordinate the work of relief committees and relieving officers, and to prevent their acting in practical independence in their several districts ; " (6) Failure to adjust from time to time scales of relief (or income) so as to secure that the condition of the recipient of relief should continue, notwithstanding the general fall in wages and in the cost of living, to be less eligible than that of the independent workman. " A particular instance of this defect is found where an order is made for, e.g., £1 worth of groceries. For £1 con- siderably larger quantities can be purchased at the present time than was the case a year ago, but in some unions the nominal amount of the order remains the same.

" (7) Failure to take into consideration, in deciding whether relief should be granted, and to what extent., the whole of the resources actually available for the support of the household of which the applicant was the head or a member. Cases could be cited in which practically no account is taken of such resources, and in which relief is given though the other resources are such as to preclude any suggestion of destitution.

" (8) The grant of relief to persons in full-time work. It is not disputed that in certain cases the net wages earned have been in fact insufficient to meet the needs of even a moderate sized family, but it remains true that it is better in the long run, and in the interest of the workers themselves, to remove such a worker from the labour market, even if this means throwing the entire cost of his family's maintenance upon the poor rate.

" (9) Failure to review with special investigation cases in which relief has been paid over a long series of weeks. " (10) In a certain number of Unions relief was given in the early part of the coal dispute to the miners themselves, and it was necessary to call the attention of tho Guardians to the fact that, as the Minister was advised, such relief was unlawful. The Judgment of the Court of Appeal in Attorney-General v. Merthyr Tydfil (1900, 1 Ch. 516), under which this advice was given, was to the following effect :— ' Able-bodied men, who can, if they choose, obtain work which will enable them to maintain themselves, their wives and families, but who, by reason of a strike or otherwise, refuse to accept that work, are not entitled to relief, except that if they become physically incapable of work the Guardians may, to prevent their starving, give them tem- porary relief. . . .

' The wives and children of such mon, however, are entitled to relief, though they themselves aro not.' "

It is hardly necessary for us to say how strongly we sympathize with these caveats.

Now comes what is always the crux of State action— the matter of cost. We can only call the figures terrible :- " The amount raised by rates to meet Poor Law expenses in the year before the War was £12,060,000. The amount so raised in the financial year 1921-22 is estimated at £35,700,000."

The Report fries, so far as it can, to excuse this tripling of the cost by pointing out that it is in part accounted for in the general increase in wages and prices. But, as we are sure was clear to the officials who penned the Report, this is in reality no excuse for this vast addition to the burden of the rates. Wages and prices did not increase to such an extent. Again, if the increase was due to the rise in all prices and wages, the cost should now be falling. But of this we see few if any signs.

The passage which deals with borrowings is unpleasant reading, in spite of the fact that it is quite clear that the Department knows how very soon the policy of borrowing and spending without thought for the morrow or the resources available may lead to local bankruptcy.

We shall end our attempt to put before the public some of the lessons of the Report by quoting the following passage, which deals with the voluntary agencies for relief and shows how what Dr. Chalmers called the fountains of true charity dry up under the blighting heat of official action :- " The acute unemployment of the past year has led in a number of areas to the collection of considerable voluntary funds for the assistance of distressed persons of a class which has not ordinarily in the past resorted to the Poor Law. It is much to be regretted that the effect of the adoption by the Guardians of what is known as a liberal policy has generally been to limit or'even destroy this form of help. This is the more unfortunate since in suitable cases there are opportunities for the giving

of effective assistance which is not within the legal powers of the Guardians, and further it remains true that to save an applicant from contact with poor relief is in the great majority of cases to minimize the moral deterioration which in some degree is a necessary result of even a temporary loss of independence. Nothing but harm can result from a competition of private charity with Poor Law relief, but on the principles laid down so long ago as 1869 in the memorandum published by the Poor Law Board over Mr. Goseheu's signature, there is ample scope for both, working in co-operation and in their respective spheres. It may be pointed out that in one coal-mining Union (Basford) in which the Guardians have declined to depart from the provisions of the Relief Regulation Order, 1911, and the numbers in receipt of poor relief have remained practically con- stant throughout the year, distress has been prevented by voluntary funds and organizations largely managed and arranged by the unemployed persons themselves. Similarly in the Redruth Union the expenditure of the Guardiaes in the relief of distress due to unemployment amounts to £5,000, but a sum of no less than £40,000 has been expended from voluntary sources. But it cannot be expected that persons required to contribute heavily through the rates for the relief of distress will generally be willing also to assist voluntary funds which have tin' same end in view, and the voluntary schemes that have been in it iated have as a rule come to an end with the extension of the Guardians' action."

Those who have taken the trouble to read this paragraph carefully and to understand what it means will quickly realize how strong were the reasons which made us appeal to our readers to do their best to help ono of the most useful organizations in the country for dealing with desti- tution, the Charity Organization Society. Unfortunately, however, our appeal, though it was so strongly needed, showed, in the very small sum we were able to collect, exactly what is foreshadowed in the paragraph just quoted. People nowadays will not help even the Charity Organiza- tion Society when they remember what they are paying in rates and taxes to relieve destitution and have a strong impression that almosU all expenditure on charity involves the waste of overlapping. No man will do for the State voluntarily what he knows he will also have to do under compulsion. We are far from saying that this is the whole case and do not want to condemn the principle that the State in the last resort is responsible for the welfare of its citizens. All we mean to say is that the principles which one of the greatest of humanitarians and philanthropists, Dr. Chalmers, laid down as to the moral injury involved by reckless State aid, and as to destitution being a moral rather than a physical evil, still retain their value.

But let us for a moment discount all talk of the merits on one side or the other and come to the hard facts. We are now distributing a vast sum of money every week and month in relief of all kinds. But a great deal of this expenditure never reaches the people it is intended to reach. It is lost in the sands of bureaucracy, as the old geographers used to tell us the Rhine was lost in the sands of Holland. But this inevitably leads to the question whether it would not be better, cheaper and less demoraliz- ing to recognize fully what we are doing, and to pay out in weekly allowances of money plainly and simply the millions which now go with so much waste by the way in various forms, central and local, in relief of persons who are assumed to be unable to maintain a worthy standard of civilization —we admit there is such a standard—without external and public help ? Mr. Geoffrey Drage has shown us that the amount of money spent per annum on the non-self-sup- porting population is equivalent to the substantial endow- ment of every family which can be regarded as a poten- tial recipient Of course, we admit that our argument is necessarily a reductio ad absurdum, because the people oil the borderline, if they realized what was happening, would never agree to it ; but, like most cases of the reductio ad absurdum, it is of great value. And now comes a curious and sinister point. The bad type of capitalist in his heart, consciously or subconsciously, does not object to this system of relief. It keeps down wages and produces that pool of impoverished labour which he is inclined to think gives him a better opportunity than the high wages and pecuniary and moral independence which go with high wages when they are really earned and not imposed. Remember that the State doles now, as was shown in the case of the old Poor Law, are a State subsidy to supplement wages. That is a fact, perhaps the most important of the facts that show how hard At is to act contrary to the teachings of the science of exchange. The altering of values by law is about as easy a task as trying to compress water.