Изображения страниц

relief granted is often superfluous in one case and hopelessly inadequate in another-an evil which will certainly not be mitigated when old age pensions come into universal operation, and no inquiry into special circumstances is required from or even permitted to the Pensions officers and Pensions Committee beyond a somewhat perfunctory one instituted for the purpose of ascertaining that those applying for the pensions are not already in possession of, or legally entitled to, an income which would disqualify them from any pension at all or for the full legal pension. A second evil complained of is that in a certain number of cases old people live on under conditions which render them à source of danger alike to themselves and their neighbours. They are filthy, neglected, and often bedridden. Such cases will, we fear, be apt to multiply under a system of universal old age pensions unless more stringent powers of removal are given to the Poor Law authorities when the surroundings in which the pensioners are living are thoroughly unsatisfactory, and unless the laws against overcrowding are more strictly enforced.

In the case of widows with children and of single women the evils resulting from an ill-regulated system of outrelief are more serious and more apparent. But the evils which have to be encountered arise from the same cause as in the previous case-viz., want of a sense of responsibility and want of watchfulness and inquiry when relief has once been granted. The investigations of the Commissioners have brought to light the fact that a certain proportion of those in receipt of outdoor relief live, particularly in towns, in surroundings which are of a most undesirable kind; that the children grow up in conditions which cannot but be both physically and morally deleterious to them ; and that the Poor Law itself is thus tending directly by its action both to perpetuate a condition of the worst kind of pauperism and to enhance the rents of those who own the uncared for and ill-reputed property in which outdoor paupers of this class too often live. One of the recommendations of the Commissioners, which at least deserves consideration, is that certain streets or districts should be

proscribed, dwellers in which should be regarded as ipso facto ineligible for outdoor relief. Yet there are two obvious dangers to which such a recommendation is liable : one is that its adoption might give rise to favouritism, jobbery, and a good deal of disagreeable wrangling among the Guardians, who would often thus be called upon to judge of the condition of one another's property; the second danger is that in driving away undesirable characters from one neighbourhood one may be but helping to demoralize another, since we must always remember that it is the character of the people which makes the neighbourhood rather than the neighbourhood which makes the people. * Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.' The safer course would seem to be to continue out-relief to no one who is not living a decent, respectable, self-respecting life; only, if this is to be done, there will be need of more relieving officers and of a much more searching inquiry than is made at present.

The evils which beset the granting of relief to unmarried women are partly of the same, partly of a different kind. On the one hand it is often in the ranks of those in receipt of outdoor relief that the slatternly and degraded and women who are living the most unsatisfactory lives are to be found, since the more respectable often prefer almost to starve rather than receive outdoor relief; on the other hand, the acceptance of relief by women tends to increase (though the Commissioners think not in a marked degree), for there is always a supply of unskilled women workers in excess of the demand-the number of those who will accept almost any job offered them at starvation wages. In other words, outdoor relief granted to single women tends to foster what are known as the women's sweated industries.

The great danger which besets the granting of outdoor relief to the temporarily or permanently sick is that in many cases it encourages their being nursed in their homes under conditions which are most unfavourable to health and speedy recovery.

This evil has to some extent diminished in recent times, since the improved workhouse infirmaries of modern days are no longer looked upon with



the suspicion and the dislike with which they were once regarded, and in many cases the sick and their friends raise little objection to their being removed to the workhouse infirinary. But, though the evil has diminished, the evidence given before the Commissioners shews that it still exists, and exists in parts of the country to a very undesirable extent. A second danger which arises when the sick in receipt of outdoor relief are nursed at home is that they are very likely, in the crowded state of the dwellings of the poor, to spread the diseases from which they are suffering. This the Commissioners consider is specially liable to occur in cases of consumption, and they quote instances, brought under their own observation, where disease of this kind has been in this way communicated to other members of the family.

Yet in spite of these drawbacks, and others, such as the poor remuneration and overwork of the parish doctors, the want of any sufficient co-operation and clear line of demarcation between the voluntary hospitals and the Poor Law infirmaries, the administration of medical relief under the Poor Law must, we think, be regarded as one of the satisfactory features of our existing system. Anyone, however poor he may be, has little or no difficulty in obtaining, and quite speedily, medical assistance in sickness, and in most parts of the country very fair nursing as well ; but to be able to say thus much is to be able to say a good deal.

Another department in which it is possible to feel satisfaction is that of the children, the care of whom has been entirely taken over by the Poor Law. Whatever the system adopted, if only the system has been kindly and efficiently administered and the children have been removed from the influences of the workhouse, the results in all cases--in barrack schools, in scattered homes, in cottage homes under boarding-out-have been consistently and surprisingly good. Each system has no doubt its own special difficulties and dangers to be guarded against; but when the Guardians have shewn intelligence and care in selecting their officers and their Visiting Committees, these dangers and difficulties have been successfully met and overcome. The only system which can be said to have almost uniformly failed is that in which, through outdoor relief injudiciously granted, the children have been left to the uncontrolled and ill-directed care of a thoroughly incompetent or vicious mother. Children brought up under such conditions have only too constantly proved a fruitful seed-bed of misery and pauperism in the future.


Having thus rapidly surveyed some of the principal features of our present economic condition as developed under the influence of the existing Poor Law, we will go on next to consider the chief recommendations of the Commissioners for its amelioration and reform.

At the outset the Commissioners propose to abolish the name of Poor Law in every connexion, and to substitute for it that of Public Assistance. They advocate the change on two grounds : first because the old name has gathered round it associations of degradation and humiliation to those who are relieved under it, and from such associations they desire the new system to be exempt; but secondly they advocate the change because they wish that a wholly new spirit should characterize the Public Assistance of the future from that which has for the most part distinguished the administration of the Poor Law in the past; and that in several different directions. In the first place the administration of the Poor Law has been, and has been intended to be, primarily deterrent. One of the principal aims of the reformed Poor Law of 1834 was that those who found themselves destitute and unable to support themselves and their families should turn to the public for relief only when they had exhausted every other means of obtaining assistance from those on whom they had a legal or even a moral claim; it was further intended that those who came on the public for relief should be on the whole less well off and in a less favourable position than those who managed to support and provide for themselves. Nor, unless the whole of the working classes are to be pauperized and the country to be reduced to a worse condition than that from which it was rescued by the Poor Law reform of 1834, is it possible to depart in the main from these principles. Yet the Commissioners think that it is possible to administer Public Assistance in a more sympathetic spirit than that which the Poor Law authorities have shewn; that more stress may be laid than the Guardians have generally laid on the necessity of assisting the applicants, and less on the deterrent effects which the operation of the system is intended to have ; that the assistance given should be of a more varied kind and more carefully adjusted to the needs of the recipients than it has been in the past, charity being called in to supplement, where necessary, the assistance from public sources. The Commissioners therefore propose that in place of one uniform system of indoor and outdoor relief, the needs of each case should be separately and carefully considered ; and that that particular kind of help, whether of a public or a private kind, should be given, whether in an institution or at the applicant's own home, which seems likely to meet most adequately and satisfactorily the special needs of the case. This would of course entail a far closer co-operation between public assistance and private charitable agencies than it has been found possible to establish hitherto.

Then, again, the Commissioners desire that a more serious attempt should be made than is made now to search out and to understand the causes of failure and distress with a view of remedying the causes rather than of palliating the results which have followed from them. With this object they suggest that a much more thorough investigation should be made of an applicant's past history, that the facts about him should be more accurately recorded, and that the applicant himself should be induced to submit in many more instances than at present to a course of training and discipline such as might bring about a change for the better in his surroundings, his habits, or his disposition.

Now if we may consider first these general principles which underlie the Commissioners' recommendations as a whole before proceeding to discuss the recommendations


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »