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themselves in detail it is obvious to make the three following criticisms upon them.
In the first place their general effect would be not to diminish but to increase the labour and responsibilities of those who undertake, either as public administrators or as dispensers of private charities, to assist those who claim to be in need of assistance. But if, as we contend, the existing system has partly broken down because a heavier burden has been thrown on those who administer it than the majority of men are able or willing to undertake, is there not a danger that the new system may break down even more conspicuously from a similar cause ? Of course the objection might be met, and probably in practice will be met, by the multiplication of paid experts and officials to take part in the work; e.g. the number of relieving officers will be increased, inspectors added to, more paid agents of various kinds employed. Yet after all, if the work is to be satisfactorily done, it cannot be left to such agencies alone, and a good deal of additional assistance of an unpaid and voluntary kind will be required. But to keep up a supply of people at once willing and competent to join in such work is a matter of no little difficulty, and will need a stronger sense of Christian duty and self-sacrifice than is, perhaps, to be found generally in the leisured classes.
Secondly, if the ideas of the Commissioners are to be carried out, those taking part in the work of Public Assistance, whether as representatives of the public, as officials, or as volunteers, will have to be both more intelligent and more specially trained for their task than they usually are at present.
To hunt out the causes of failure and disaster, whether in an individual or a class, to bring remedial measures to bear on the sufferers, to induce the sufferers to adopt, acquiesce, and persevere in remedial measures, will require a combination of firmness, tact, knowledge, and acumen not always (we might say not very often) to be met with in the same individual; but if the system is to be satisfactorily carried out all the country over a veritable army of individuals thus gifted will be needed. The objection is not indeed a fatal one-it may be met and
overcome ; but its existence does at least suggest that the public, in setting out to become a kind of 'universal providence,' will be undertaking a large task, one which should not be entered upon without preparation and some previous experience in those who are to carry it on; and if volunteers, whether district visitors or others, are to be called in, as assuredly they must be, to take part in the work, they will have to recognize their own possible shortcomings and want of knowledge, and steps must be taken, so far as possible, to remedy and remove these.
A third objection to the scheme propounded is more fundamental and important, and may well prove fatal to the adoption of it. Will the people who are to be assisted, those, at least, who are to be assisted in their own homes, submit to the amount of direction, supervision, and inspection which will have to be exercised over them, and that partly at the hands of amateurs ? No doubt the scheme, as outlined by the Commissioners, stops far short of the amount of interference which would be requisite under any system of socialism ; in this respect it is a great improvement on such systems. No one is to be dragooned, or even advised, who has not so far mismanaged his own affairs, or who has not been so unfortunate, as to be forced to apply to the public for assistance. Yet the experience of the Charity Organisation Society and the ill-repute in which, in spite of its many excellences, that Society is too often held, suggest that a system of mixed legal and voluntary assistance extended throughout the whole country would find many opponents, and is still a long way from commanding that general assent and approval without which even the best devised plan of social reform must inevitably be a failure. While, again, it is quite possible and most desirable to bring the Public Assistance Authorities and voluntary agencies into closer relations, and to define their relative spheres more clearly, would-be reformers must not fail to recognize that some choice and freedom of action must be left to those who are to be assisted, and that it is only within very narrow limits that resort can be had to anything like compulsion.
Let us turn now to consider the nature of the machinery which the Commissioners would set up for carrying out the delicate and difficult task on which they wish the country to embark.
They propose in the first place to increase the powers already vested in the Poor Law (or as for the future it is to be called, the Public Assistance) division of the Local Government Board, and that in two directions. First, the Local Government Board is to have a more direct position of initiative and guidance than it has had hitherto ; secondly, its inspectors are to be more carefully chosen, to have more authority, and to have associated with them assistant inspectors to relieve them of some of their more routine and less important duties. Both these recommendations seem judicious. No small part of the incompetence, confusion, and, in some cases, corruption, which have signalized the administration of Boards of Guardians in the past, have been due to their being left with too free a hand, and to the Local Government Board having no sufficient power either of initiative or of control. Under the new system, where more initiative will be required, and where greater co-operation between different agencies will have to be secured, it will be doubly necessary to have an initiating, co-ordinating, and in some cases compelling, central power to look after it.
Their second proposal is that the existing Boards of Guardians should altogether disappear and their place be taken by newly constituted Public Assistance Authorities and Public Assistance Committees. The first of these (which follow largely the analogy of the Education Committees of the county councils) are to be statutory committees of the county and county borough councils, appointed as to half their members from within the councils themselves, while as to the other half, though nominated by the councils, they are to be chosen from outside those bodies from persons experienced in the local administration of Public Assistance, and a certain proportion of them are
to be women. The areas over which the Authorities are to preside are to be counties and county boroughs. Two considerations commended the county to the Commissioners as the area over which the Authority should preside. In the first place, the selection of so wide an area seemed to the Commissioners likely to secure for the members of the Public Assistance Authority freedom from that local influence which had in their judgement been so detrimental to the satisfactory working of Boards of Guardians under our existing system ; in the second place, this extension of the area rendered possible that better classification of the institutions under the control of the Public Assistance Authority to which they attach, and rightly attach, the greatest possible importance. Besides this, as the finances of Public Assistance of whatever kind are to be in the hands of the Authority, the county and county boroughs furnish a convenient, simple, and well recognized rating area.
To the Public Assistance Authority are to be entrusted the provision, organization, supervision, and control of all institutions required for Public Assistance within their area ; secondly, the creation, supervision, direction, and, if necessary, the dissolution of Public Assistance Committees for investigating and deciding applications for assistance, and for dealing with applicants for such assistance within the county; and, thirdly, to provide the funds by which the institutions are to be maintained and the committees to carry on their work.
While the establishment of such Public Assistance Authorities in the different counties seems an excellent feature in the scheme of the Commissioners, exception may well be taken to their constitution and the mode of their appointment. They are to be nominated bodies, and bodies nominated by the county councils. Now the county councils are already responsible for providing a very large number of committees and members of committees; is it wise to add so largely to their duties and responsibilities in this respect, and would their nominees be likely to be sufficiently representative of the average feeling of the county? Would there not be a danger of
their proving too doctrinaire, too little in touch and sympathy with those for whose assistance they are to provide ? Would not a directly representative element introduced into these Authorities give them a weight and influence which they might not have without it?
Of the functions of the Public Assistance Authority the most important will be that of constituting and looking after the Public Assistance Committees. These are to take the place of existing Boards of Guardians, but to have even wider duties than those which the Boards fulfil. For they are to make careful enquiry into the circumstances and condition of all persons applying for assistance within their area with a view to ascertaining the cause and nature of their distress, and also to discover whether there be any persons liable for their maintenance, and if they find such persons, to recover from them the cost of the assistance given; they are to decide upon the best method of assisting applicants and to call in, when necessary, voluntary charitable agencies to help them ; while, lastly, they are to supervise and administer the institutions of the Public Assistance Authority and such other institutions as the Public Assistance Authority may direct, and periodically to visit all persons in receipt of assistance within their area in their own homes. The committees to whom are to be entrusted these difficult and important duties are to be nominated for the most part directly by the Public Assistance Authority, but are to include in addition a certain proportion of persons (some of them women), skilled in the administration of local assistance, nominated by the urban and rural district councils. We cannot but regret here again, and even more than in the case of the Public Assistance Authority, the absence from these committees of a directly representative element. Such an element associated with other and more expert members would not only give additional weight and authority to the findings of the committees, but would also secure that that side or aspect of the question which appealed most to the public and most faithfully reflected its wishes, and even its prejudices, should find full and adequate expression. Where existing Boards have failed