Charles Richmond Henderson.

Modern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods online

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poor rate.

For the performance of certain functions of relief, as, e. g., the
care of children, the Poor Law union had been found to be too small.
Accordingly in 1879 power was given the central authorities to unite
two or more unions for any purpose connected with poor-relief.
Thus many unions have been formed into districts for the erection of
the so-called "District Schools," where large numbers of pauper chil-
dren are educated together. The tendency is to transfer the costlier
branches of public relief to these large administrative districts ; and
when this is not done, subsidies from general public funds, as in the
care of the indigent insane, are given local authorities for the more
expensive forms of relief.

It is impossible in this brief sketch to notice the many philan-
thropic movements during the latter half of the nineteenth century,
which have brought about so many improvements in the administra-
tion of public relief in the case of the most helpless classes, as, e. g.,
the agitations for the better care of the sick poor, for the removal
of the insane from the workhouses, and for the better education of
pauper children. These will, however, be noticed briefly in the sec-
tions which deal with the present methods of caring for these classes.


By the Local Government Act of 1894 the local administration
of relief was, so to speak, completely democratized. Previous to
that date the boards of guardians had been elected by a classified
franchise which granted the propertied classes as high as six votes.
Now equal franchise is given to all adult persons, without distinc-
tion of sex, who have resided in the union for one year or longer,
provided they have paid poor-rate and have their names enrolled on
the register of parochial electors. As a consequence many laboring
men have been elected to the boards. Women, also, can serve as
guardians, and a large number have been elected. One result of
this democratization of the local administration has been that in some
unions there has been a large increase in the giving of outdoor relief,
as the labor leaders favor greater liberality, in this respect. But this
can hardly be counted a serious danger, so long as the check of a
supreme central authority remains.

The Present English System of Public Relief. — Aschrott
has called England "the classical land of State poor-relief."^ As we
have seen, it is only in the broad sense of the word "State" that this
epithet is historically deserved. Originally the relief was communal
or parish relief, which perhaps may be traced back to the clan system
of social organization, but which was given definite form during the
Middle Ages by the fact that the Church was the sole agent of public
relief. So the duty of giving relief became attached to the parish;
and it remained so down to 1834. Even now the bulk of relief does
not come from general public funds, raised by taxing equitably the
whole country, but from local funds raised by the taxation of a com-
paratively small area, the Poor Law union. However, the act of
1834 did transform the relief system from a local into a State system.
It supplied what had hitherto been lacking — a central authority which
could secure uniformity of administration throughout the kingdom.
Accordingly, local administration has now the character of appear-
ing derived from a central authority. The system is a State system ;
but the carrying out of details is left to local authorities upon grounds
of expediency. The recognition of the right of relief as a civil right
is further evidence of the State character of the system ; but most
of all does this appear in the highly centralized organization of the
Poor Law administration. Let us see what this organization is :

^ Art. Armengesetzgebung in Grossbritannien in Handworterbuch der Staats-
wissenschaften. Zweite Auflage, 1898.


I. The Organization of Poor Law Administration.^
(a) The Central Authority. — The existing central authority in
Poor Law administration is, as we have seen, the Local Government
Board. The Local Government Board is composed of a president,
who is the responsible cabinet minister,- of a permanent and a parlia-
mentary secretary, of several assistant secretaries, of a general inspec-
tor, and a legal adviser. In addition several other important ofificers
of the Government are nominally ex-officio members. The powers of
this central board over local administration, as has already been said,
are of the most extensive character. These powers are exercised
chiefly in four ways : through the issuing of orders, through inspec-
tion and supervision, through the auditing of accounts, and through
power of dismissal.

The power to issue orders and regulations to secure the carrying
out of the intentions of legislation, is among the most important
functions of the central board. These orders, known as Poor Law
orders, have become of greater practical importance than the Poor
Law itself, since they cover the whole field of administration down
even to the smallest details. Thus, after the local authorities have
decided that relief shall be given and what kind of relief, the method
or manner of giving the relief is rigidly prescribed. No important
step can be taken by the local authorities, such as the building of a
workhouse, or the formation of a new union, except it is sanctioned
by a special order of the board. Moreover, the board issues, besides
these orders, which are mandatory, letters of instruction and circu-
lars, which are in the way of explanation and suggestion, but are
of great influence.

The power to inspect and supervise local administration is an-
other important function of the central board. For this purpose ihe
whole country is divided into fourteen inspection districts. Each
district is under a general inspector. London, in addition, has
three assistant inspectors. These inspectors are specialists, and usu-
ally highly educated men.^ Their duties are to visit the workhouses,

^ The best authorities here are Aschrott, The English Poor Law System, Past
and Present ; the article by Aschrott noted above ; Fowle, The Poor Law ; and
C. S. Loch, Introduction to Annual Charities Register and Digest.

^ The president of the local Government Board does not always have a seat
in the cabinet ; but of late years this has been the practice.

^ Their salary is usually high, being generally about £1,000, with allowances


to attend, occasionally, meetings of boards of guardians, to hear com-
plaints, and otherwise to supervise the relief administration of their
districts. Once a year they hand in a somewhat elaborate report to
the central authorities.

An efficient means of control over local authorities is through
the power of auditing accounts. There are fifty district auditors who
examine, every half-year, the accounts of all officials, and who have
power to disallow any item therein which is at variance with the
orders of the central board. Every such disallowed item becomes a
personal charge upon the board of guardians, though the Local Gov-
ernment Board has discretionary power to remit the disallowance.

Finally, the central board has power to discharge all officials em-
ployed by the local authorities, though these latter may neither ap-
point nor remove any officer without the consent of the board. This
makes the administrative officers in the relief system, such as the
masters of workhouses and the relieving officers, independent of
local political influences, and secures efficiency by making sure the
dismissal of incompetents.

(&) The Local Authorities. — For the purposes of local adminis-
tration, the country is divided (1900) into 649 Poor Law unions, new
unions being formed from time to time as the population increases.
For each of these unions there is a board of guardians, who are
the responsible local authorities charged with the carrying out of
the Poor Law and the orders of the central board. The guardians
are unpaid honor officers who are elected for three years from the
voters of the union, one-third of their number retiring each year.
The elected guardians, however, are entitled to choose, in addition,
their chairman and vice-chairman, and two other members from out-
side their own body, provided such persons are qualified to be guard-
ians of the union.

All persons, both men and women, are eligible for service as
guardians who are either parochial electors or have lived in the
union for the twelve months preceding. Nearly every person of
full age resident in the union at least one year is entitled to vote
for guardians, if his rates have been paid, unless he has within the
previous twelve months received relief of any sort except certain
forms of medical relief. The number of guardians elected in each

for traveling expenses and clerical assistance. See Aschrott's English Poor Law


union is fixed by the central board, but there is always one or more
for each parish or city ward. In rural districts the guardians are
the district councilors, but as guardians they are an administrative
body separate and distinct from the district council.

The board of guardians is aided by paid officers, a clerk and one
or more relieving officers. These are elected by the board, but their
election must be confirmed by the Local Government Board, which
also has the decisive voice regarding their salary or any later increase
in salary. Moreover, as already noted, they can be dismissed only
by the central authorities if guilty of any neglect of duty. The
clerk keeps all records of the board, gives legal advice, and looks
after many matters of detail ; hence, he may have a great deal to do
with shaping the policy of the board. The relieving officers receive
and are supposed to investigate all applications for relief, to report
on the same to the board, and to distribute "duly and punctually"
the relief granted by the board.

The boards of guardians hold regular meetings, usually fort-
nightly, at stated times and places. At these meetings a regular
order of business, prescribed by the central board, is gone through
with, including reports from the master of the workhouse and the
relieving officers. For the purpose of expediting business, in the
larger unions the board has numerous standing committees, such as
the workhouse committee, the finance committee, and the relief com-

2. The Raising of the Funds for Relief. — The funds for
poor-relief are obtained chiefly through the poor rate. But certain
"grants" from the Local Government Board, taken from the county
funds, now also form no inconsiderable part of the poor funds.
These grants are now given for the keeping of the indigent insane
in the county or borough asylums to the extent of four shillings
per head weekly ; also in London to the amount of five pence daily
for every poor person taken care of in an institution ; and finally,
for the salaries and pensions of Poor Law officers. The amount of
these contributions in the year 1896-97 was £2,034,171 out of a total
expenditure, for all purposes connected with the public poor-relief,
of £10,215,974.1

Apart from these contributions, each union must bear the ex-
pense of relieving its own poor through the local tax, known as "the

^ See Aschrott, Armengesetzgebung in Grossbritannien.


poor rate." The assessment and levying of this tax is the business
of the overseers, who are still appointed in some urban parishes
according to the terms of the Poor Law of Elizabeth ; but by the
Local Government Act of 1894 the appointment of overseers in
rural parishes was transferred to the parish council or parish meet-
ing. The overseers are unpaid honor officers, and their work is
largely done by paid underofficers, known as assistant overseers and

Besides these funds, local authorities are permitted, under the
approval and supervision of the central authorities, to borrow for
certain purposes, such as the erection of workhouses and other insti-
tutions. The amount of these loans in the year 1896 aggregated

Of the total expenditures for all purposes connected with the
public poor-relief for the year ended Lady Day, 1899 — which were
£11,286,973 — £8,161,532 were obtained from the poor rate. This
made the amount of the poor rate per capita of the population for
that year 7s. 2^d. In 1834 the amount per capita was 8s. 9/^d. ;
in 1880 it was 6s. 4d. ; in 1890, 5s. ii}4d. Thus the amount of taxa-
tion for the relief of the poor per capita gradually decreased, though
with many fluctuations, down to about 1890; since then it has been
rapidly increasing. This is due, however, largely to the better care
of the poor. Thus in 1885-86 the amount expended annually per
capita of those relieved was iio lo^^d. ; while in 1896-97 it had
increased to £12 los. 4^d.

3. The Right to Relief and the Law of Settlement. —
Every fully destitute person is entitled to receive relief. The refusal
of the local poor officials to relieve such a person is a punishable
offense. Moreover, in extreme cases the courts would issue a man-
damus to compel relief to be granted. The possibility of punishment,
or of summary proceedings, however, is sufficient to prevent any neg-
lect of duty on the part of officials. It is also to be noted that neg-
lect to procure relief for a child, a sick or other helpless person, by
a private individual who knows that such person is in need of relief,
is a punishable offense.

On the other hand, persons who are possessed of money or prop-
erty, and who make false statements in applying for public relief,
may be punished as idle and disorderly persons. The poor officials
have, besides, a legal claim upon the present or later-acquired prop-


erty of a person relieved for any relief granted within the last twelve

The duty of giving relief rests in the first instance upon the Poor
Law union in which the poor person happens to be found. In case
the person has not a legal settlement in any parish of the union he
may be removed to his home, provided the removal is not excluded
through special legal regulations. These cases of so-called "irre-
movability" are numerous. The more important of them are: (i)
if the person in question has resided in the union a full year without
relief; (2) if the person is a child under sixteen, living with a parent;
(3) if the person is a widow during the first twelve months of her
widowhood; (4) if the indigency is a result of sickness, misfortune.
or accident, unless in the opinion of the justices permanent and com-
plete incapacity for work is likely to result therefrom.^

In case the person has no settlement and is "removable," removal
may take place, if there is no dispute, without form ; but if there is
dispute the guardians must secure a removal order from two justices
of the peace. A pauper so removed from a union by a formal order
of the justices cannot return without rendering himself liable to
arrest as an idle and disorderly person. The number of removal
orders issued has from year to year decreased.

A person has a settlement in a parish (i) if he has resided in it
for three years "in such manner and under such circumstances as
would render him irremovable;" (2) if he occupies for one year
a dwelling house, whose annual rental is not less than £10, and has
paid poor-rate; (3) if he owns an estate of land, however small
in value, and resides in the parish forty days. Besides these "origi-
nal" settlements, acquired by the person himself, there are "deriva-
tive" settlements, acquired in virtue of relationship to another per-
son. Thus a wife on marriage acquires the settlement of her hus-
band, and a child under sixteen takes the settlement of its father
or widowed mother.-

It is evident from what has been said that settlement and the
right to relief do not coincide. The matter of settlement is still
connected with the parish, while the giving of relief is the duty of
the union. And relief cannot be refused if the applicant is fully des-

^ See Introduction to Annuo'. Charities Register and Digest, 1902, p. xlix.
^ Ibid., p. 1.


titute, and has a settlement in one of the parishes of the union or is
irremovable from other causes.

4. The Procedure in the Granting of Relief. — Save in
exceptional circumstances, all applications for relief must be made to
the relieving officer of the needy person's district. The relieving
officer must at once make an investigation at the house of the ap-
plicant, examining carefully into the circumstances of the case. He
enters the information thus obtained in an "Application and Report
Book," and at the next meeting of the board of guardians he makes
a personal report upon the case. To this meeting the applicant also
is regularly invited, in order that he may be given a personal hear-
ing. After listening to the report and, perhaps, questioning the ap-
plicant, the board decides, first, concerning the granting of relief, and,
if granted, then concerning the sort of relief to be given. This de-
cision is entered in a book, the "Relief Order Book," by the clerk,
and must be carried out by the relieving officer.

Over those indigent whose permanent relief is undertaken con-
tinuous oversight is exercised by a committee of the board of guard-
ians. Standing committees exist for several classes of the desti-
tute, such as children, the sick, those relieved with money, and those
relieved in the workhouse. These committees, usually composed of
both men and women, make regular reports to the board, so that from
time to time all cases are reviewed by the board.

In emergencies the relieving officer has the right to give imme-
diate relief in kind or an order for the workhouse. At the next
meeting of the board of guardians, however, he must report the
case, which is then taken up in the regular way for a definite decision.
The overseers and justices of the peace can also give an order for
relief in any sudden or urgent necessity. This is a remnant of their
old power, and is rarely used by them. Ultimately all cases must
come before the board of guardians for decision.

The above description of the procedure in granting relief in any
particular case represents the spirit of the law. Unfortunately it is
not always possible to carry out this procedure fully. The im-
mense amount of business which comes before some boards of guard-
ians leads to undue haste in the disposition of cases. Thus one in-
spector reports that as many as eleven cases were disposed of in four
minutes by one London board of guardians. Again, the duties of
the relieving officer are often so heavy that he cannot give proper


attention to the investigation of cases. Instead of having from one
hundred to two hundred cases to look after, he often has from four
to five hundred. Thus investigation is often neglected or degenerates
into a mere form. Indeed, just here is one of the great weaknesses
of the English system of poor-relief — that it gives no adequate rec-
ognition to the value of the principle of investigation, but upon ma-
chinery and routine to take its place.

5. Outdoor Relief. — The relief of the poor falls into two main
divisions, indoor and outdoor relief. As these terms are used in
England, indoor relief comprehends practically all relief given inside
of institutions. It covers, in particular, the relief given in work-
houses, infirmaries, schools, asylums, and other institutions under the
control of the guardians. Outdoor relief is relief given to the poor
in their own homes ; but it also includes in England the relief of the
indigent insane in county and borough asylums, private asylums, and
licensed houses. But this exceptional use of the term is of no great
importance ; and practically the terms indoor and outdoor relief are
used to designate, respectively, relief inside and outside of the work-

As we have seen, one of the most important duties of the board
of guardians is to decide upon the kind of relief. For their guidance
in this matter there exist the two great ordinances of the central
board, already mentioned, the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order of
1844, and the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order of 1852. The Pro-
hibitory Order, which holds in most districts of England, forbids the
granting of outdoor relief to the able-bodied, both male and female,
save under the following exceptional circumstances : ( i) sudden or
urgent necessity; (2) sickness, accident, bodily or mental infirmity
affecting the applicant or his or her family; (3) defraying the ex-
penses of burial; (4) in the case of a widow in the first six months
of her widowhood; (5) in the case of a widow with legitimate chil-
dren only, who is unable to earn her own livlihood ; (6) when the
head of the family is in prison or in an asylum ; (7) when the head of
the family is absent in the service of His Majesty, as a soldier, sailor,
or marine; (8) in cases of desertion of husband when there are chil-
dren resident with the mother under seven years. ^ In exceptions
(6) to (8), relief shall be given in the same manner and subject

^ See Introduction to Annual Charities Register and Digest, 1902, pp. xxxvi-


to the same conditions as to a woman in widowhood. Moreover,
these exceptions apply only in the case of residents. In the case
of non-residents the regulations are somewhat stricter. But out-
door relief may be given to them under practically the same circum-
stances as are named in exceptions (i), (2), (4), and (5) above.

Outdoor relief may also be given in many of the unions in which
the Prohibitory Order is ordinarily in force under what is known
as the Outdoor Labor Test Order (1842). This requires the guard-
ians if they depart from instructions and relieve the able-bodied out
of the workhouse: (i) to give half the relief in food, fuel or other
articles of necessity; (2) to give no relief while the able-bodied per-
son is employed for wages or hire; (3) to set every such pauper at
work. This labor test order can only come into force in circum-
stances of peculiar necessity, and report must be made to the Local
Government Board within fourteen days after it has been declared
in force.

In London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other large cities where
it seemed impossible to enforce the strict provisions of the prohibi-
tory order because of the large number of the unemployed and the
small capacity of the workhouses, the outdoor relief regulation order
is permanently in force. This order permits the granting of outdoor
relief to persons of the female sex without limitation ; and to able-
bodied male persons under the following restrictions: (i) one-half
at least of the relief shall be given in food, fuel, or other articles of
absolute necessity; (2) no relief shall be given in aid of wages; (3)
relief is only to be granted on condition of the performance of a
task prescribed by the guardians. Further, the guardians are abso-
lutely prohibited from using the poor funds to establish any applicant
in business or trade ; for the payment of rent ; or for defraying trav-
eling expenses. The exceptional cases in which outdoor relief can
be granted under the prohibitory order are also valid under the regu-
lation order, and the rules in regard to non-residents are the same
in both orders.

These orders, it will be noted, neither prohibit nor regulate out-
door relief to those who are not able-bodied, such as children, the
aged, and the infirm. On the other hand, they do not prevent the
guardians of any union from abolishing outdoor relief if they see
fit ; and they especially emphasize that indoor relief is always to be
preferred for the able-bodied. Any violation of these regulations,



regarding the granting of outdoor relief, will at the auditing of
accounts be declared illegal, and the amount, as already noted, will
be charged personally to the guardians or relieving officer.

Such are the regulations under which outdoor relief must be
given. The modes in which it may be given remain to be briefly
noticed. It may be given either (i) in kind, or (2) in money.
Relief in kind is supposed to be the safer way, and is commended by
the central authorities ; but relief in money is so much more easily
distributed that practically all outdoor relief, which is not required
to be in kind, is now given in money. The allowances are usually

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonModern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods → online text (page 20 of 73)