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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teen; (2) persons over seventy; (3) those received and cared for
in the hospitals. Foreigners were given aid in the communes
in which need for it occurred, but the communes had the right
of recompense from the state.

The system by which the larger divisions of the state shared
in the burden of charity was built up comparatively early in Bel-
gium as in France. By the law of 1891, the earlier system of the
common funds was retained and to it was assigned the expense
of the care of the insane, the deaf and dumb and the blind. To
these funds the state and the provinces each contribute one-fourth
and the communes one-half. However, the hospitals and bu-
reaus of charity share in the contribution of the communes if
they are able.

In 1891, the period for acquiring settlement was changed to
three years. The law of 1891 made it the duty of the commune
to provide medical service for the poor, either by the establish-
ment of hospital service in the institutions for the poor or by
an agreement with hospitals or private institutions. The law of
1891 concerning the suppression of begging and vagrancy, be-
longing in part to the province of criminal law, was chiefly with

^ Perhaps a clearer expression would be "toward pecuniary assistance on the
part of the communes, provinces and state.'' The relief offered by the hospitals
and bureaus of charity referred to here was not private charity in our sense, but a
sort of semi-public charity, the financial support coming from (optional) endow-
ments, but the organizations were under the control of the government, and the aid
was obligatory.



reference to adults able to work and to the compulsory education
of youth. The government was required to establish three kinds
of institutions, known as institutions of correction. They were :
(i workhouses {depots de mcndicitc) ; (2) houses of refuge
(maisons de refuge) ; (3) schools of charity {ccolcs de bienfai-
sance). The first were for those adults able to work but disso-
lute and lazy, the last were for neglected young people, while
the houses of refuge furnished a sort of intermediary form be-
tween the workhouse and the poorhouse, that is to say a home
for those who were compelled to beg on account of age, sick-
ness or other cause of inability to work. It is in relation to these
institutions that the principle of having the larger divisions of
the state share in the expense of caring for the poor is especially
brought out, the expense of maintaining these institutions being
divided equally by the state, provinces and communes.

Conditions Confronting the Commission of i8g^ and Its Method
of Procedure. — We have seen that of the new laws enacted in
1891 — that is in regard to public assistance, medical relief,
and the repression of vagrancy and beggary — only the last
was in some measure satisfactory and that the attempt to carry
them into practical effect left much to be desired. For this
reason a commission was appointed in 1895 for the purpose of
considering methods of reforming these laws. This commission
held several meetings from February, 1897, to April, 1900, and
in the course of the year 1900 submitted a report to the Minister
of Justice, which treated of the entire charity system and of the
means for its amelioration. The treatment of the problems sub-
mitted was upon the basis of the latest results of science and its
application both in Belgium and in other countries. The report
both in form and content was much superior to the usual parlia-
mentary report and may be considered as a compendium of
charity methods which in many respects is to be strongly rec-
ommended to the closer study of charity workers. The author
of the report is Cyr. Van Overbergh, director-general of higher
instruction in science and letters. The president of the commis-
sion was the Duke of Ursel ; the total membership was twenty-
four. The report shows a very liberal and broad comprehension
of the subject and of the social needs of Belgium, and it is free
from political and religious prejudice.


The problem as it presented itself to the commission was not
to make a tabula rasa of the past and to attempt to construct
some kind of an ideal system for the future. It saw the many-
faulty elements in the existing system, but realized also that it
was the result of a slow growth with relation to the historical
needs of the country and that if the work of the commission was
to have any practical value, it must have its foundation in this
development of the past. The deliberations of the commission
as set forth in the report show a constant desire to maintain a
proper equilibrium between the existing system and the proposed
innovations, and the experience of other countries is always con-
sidered with reference to the customs and traditions of Belgium.

The condition confronting the commission was that of a semi-
public charity system, which, as in France, was carried on by
means of hospitals and local bureaus of charity — semi-public in
so far as aid was obligatory within the limits of the means at
hand, and in that the communes, provinces, and state were under
legal obligations to give assistance. There was also a law of
settlement for adjustment of the expense of relief among the dif-
ferent communes, according to which, however, the duty of re-
funding or compensation was very limited in comparison with
the German law of settlement. The principal part of the law
was retained, but it was extended to include abandoned children
under sixteen years of age, criminals and incurables.

The law relating to the common funds was also retained.
These funds serve as a means of equalization among the com-
munes of the cost of poor-relief or as a general fund for aiding
the local and intercommunal commissions when it is established
that the poor tax of the communes is inadequate to meet the
demands imposed upon it. It is made up by special subscrip-
tions, by the balance left over from charity administration, by
help from the state, and by a special property tax used as a
poor tax.

Statistics. — The commission attempted to get statistical in-
formation from every available source in regard to the number
and classes of indigent, the methods of relief and the develop-
ment in the results of charity efforts. The report showed the
inadequacy of the statistical resources and one of the first rec-
ommendations of the commission was for a complete reorganiza-


tion of the statistical service concerning the indigent. The Hnes
along which the recommendations proceeded were as follows :
A clear definition and classification of the indigent together with
the construction of tables for securing information upon all par-
ticulars relating to their condition and care. These tables are
to be filled out by the various charity organizations in order that
information may be secured as to the moral and material situa-
tion of the poor, their number, the quantity and quality of reHef
given, the part contributed by each of the social forces concur-
ring in the alleviation of poverty, and the work of both private
and public charity. In order to secure such statistics the com-
mission recommended the establishment of a committee of in-
formation comprising members of both private and public charity
organizations with a legal personality so that they might be re-
quired to furnish the desired information.

From 1828 to 1850, the population increased 33 per cent, and
the number of indigent increased 53 per cent. There was, also, a
corresponding increase in the number of inmates of the work-
houses. But it should be noted that in this period there were two
great economic crises, the one in 1836-37, and the other in 1847-48,
which accounted in part for the increase in poverty.

The statistics of the indigent, taken by the administrative
authorities at the request of the commission, give the most re-
liable information available at the time of the publication of the
report. In order to average the transient disturbing influences,
the period for which the statistics were taken was extended from
1890 to 1894. The report included the following classes : (a)
Those over seventy; (b) aged and infirm unable to provide for
themselves by work ; (c) orphans ; (d) those receiving permanent
help ; (e) those helped during a part of the year; (/) those injured
while working. The report showed that there was one indigent
person for every 14.4 inhabitants, while in 1850 the proportion
was as I : 5. During this period there was an increase of 50
per cent, in the population and a decrease of 50 per cent, in those
receiving the aid of charity. This condition may be compared
to that of England and France. In France it was as follows :

1847 3.7 per 100 inhabitants

1871 4.4 " "

1886 4.7 " "


In England:

1849 1 indigent for every 16 inhabitants

1850-1859 1 " " " 20.4

1860-1870 1 " " " 21.7

1870-1880 1 " " " 27.5

1880-1890 1 " " " 36.0

Although the actual proportion between the population and
the number receiving aid is much larger in Belgium than in
France or England, yet it is evident that the progress in Belgium
has been much more considerable. The causes of this improve-
ment were, in part, the marvelous development of private charity
and the amelioration of the economic situation and of the
methods of public relief.

B. Administration. — The fact that the condition up to this
time, apart from the law concerning vagrants, had not been sat-
isfactory was not due entirely to the existing laws, but also to
the system of administration. The commission considered three
possible systems of administration: (i) the complete centraliza-
tion of the care of the poor under the authority of the state; (2)
decentralization through the assignment of poor-relief to the
communes; (3) a mixed system by which the communes in-
capable of performing their charity obligations would be united
with other like communes. The first, often discussed by re-
formers of charity systems, seemed to the commission to be open
to certain fundamental objections making it undesirable. While
it has the apparent advantage of a complete equalization of the
relationships between rich and poor communes, it has the disad-
vantage of a much more grievous want in local feeling and sym-
pathy for the needs of the poor. It would, also, result finally in
the establishment of a complex system of bureaucratic machinery
which the report characterized as "uniform, invariable, indififer-
ent, cold, and pitiless." In this connection the Austrian law of
1893 was called to mind and the movement that was directed
against it. Consequently, it was decided to retain the communes
as the bearers of the local charity work but also to add the new
factor of the intercommunal organizations which makes it pos-
sible for several communes to unite in one charity association in
the same sense as the German charity law permits the united
charity organizations.


One of the chief evils in the system of charity organization
at that time was in the lack of reciprocity and unity between the
two systems of administration of the civil asylums and the bu-
reaus of charity. Under the old system of administration, out-
door relief was assigned to the bureaus of charity or charity
boards, and indoor relief to the civil asylums, the two being under
separate forms of administration. In order to prevent the con-
flicts and duplications arising from this lack of unity as well as
to prevent the arbitrarily increased cost of administration and
the want of reciprocal feeling between the two systems, the com-
mission recommended the establishment of a unified system of
administration under the name of the Commission of Assistance
(Commission d' Assistance) which should take the place of the
Commission of Civil Asylums, and that of the Bureau of Charity.
With the exception of rights and appropriation of property
legally established, there was a complete fusion of the patri-
monies of the civil asylums and the bureaus of charity. This
unification of the administrative system also makes possible an
oversight of the work of the hopitanx and hospices,^ of which at
the time of the publication of the report, there were 452 with
room for 30,967 persons. These institutions are very unevenly
distributed over the country.

Only those communes are to be free from the obligation to
form a common organization with other communes whose charity
organization, whether with or without the help of the commune,
has sufficient income to perform the required duties. In such
cases there is a local commission endowed with a legal person-
ality, which has full charge of the care of the indigent in the

The number of the weaker communes constituting one organi-
zation cannot exceed ten. The organization is formed by royal
decree, the inspectors of public assistance, and the permanent
deputation. Its administration is under the control of an inter-
communal commission composed of representatives from the
respective communes. This commission, also, possesses a legal

"■ V/ith regard to the hospitals, it may be noted that the Belgian terminology
makes a distinction between hospices and hopitanx. A variety of the former are
the so-called hospices fennes, that is, the hospitals connected with the cultivation
of the soil, where the poor, so far as their strength permits, work on the farm.


personality and can acquire property. Each commune, however,
retains certain kinds of property, as, for example, gifts and prop-
erty received by testament. One-half of the expenses of the
organization exceeding its regular resources is levied on the
basis of the population and the other half in proportion to the
poor taxes, out of which the common funds are supplied. The
organization is also granted certain privileges, as the erection
of a house of refuge or the establishment of a school of charity.
In other respects the organization and functions of the inter-
communal associations are similar to those of the local organiza-
tions of the separate communes as given below.

The local or intercommunal commissions can unite into legal-
ized associations in order to fulfill better the special ends of
charity such as those involved m hospital care or assistance
through securing work. The local branches in the system of
administration organized under the Commission of Assistance
are composed of five members in communes with less than 5,000
inhabitants, six in communes having from 5,000 to 15,000 inhabi-
tants, eight in communes of from 15,000 to 50,000 inhabitants,
and ten in communes with more than 50,000 inhabitants. These
local branches cannot be composed of a majority of aldermen,
and the mayor cannot be a member, though he is authorized to
call meetings and to act as chairman, having only an advisory
vote. The mayor and aldermen are called upon to superintend
the work of the commission. It must include in its membership
a clergyman, an alderman and a laborer. With reference to this
innovation in regard to the labor member, a precedent for which
is found in no other country, the report gives the following:
"The presence of a laborer on the commission will result in se-
curing the confidence of the laboring classes, that element of
the population having most need of aid. Too often at present
there exists distrust and suspicion among the poor in relation to
charity work. Nothing can more effectually remove this preju-
dice and grievance than the presence of laborers on the commis-
sion, who may take part in the discussion and have a voice in the
control of the proceedings. In addition the laborers will be able
to explain to the commission the needs of the poor and also
whatever abuse of their privileges there may be. The position
as a member of the commission is an honorary one, no salary



attaching to it. Only in the case of the labor member is the
noteworthy exception made, to the effect that he can claim rec-
ompense for the time given the commission if his employer de-
ducts from his wages because of his absence."

Equally noteworthy is the admission of women to charity
work with equal rights and duties. There were some members
of the commission who regarded the innovation as dangerous,
as contrary to law and custom, and they feared evil to adminis-
tration on account of it since they claimed that women were not
prepared by training for this kind of work. The majority, how-
ever, favored the admission of women and pointed out that they
had played the most important role in all charity undertakings
and had often demonstrated their especial ability for this kind
of work. "Les vertus hospitalicres et consolatrices sont dans le
caractere de la fenimc." Each commission of assistance ap-
points a treasurer who cannot be a member of the commission
but may receive compensation for his work. They also appoint
a secretary who, when a member of the commission, receives no
compensation, only his expenses being paid ; but if he is not a
member of the commission he may receive a salary. Neither the
treasurer nor the secretary can be a tavern-keeper or a retail

The budget of each local commission is made up yearly and
must be ratified by the Common Council and the Standing Depu-
tation, or government officials, who examine all the budgets of
the communes. In case the commission refuses to provide for
the obligatory expenditure, the Standing Deputation, after giv-
ing the commission a hearing, can compel the placing of the
proper amount in the budget. In other respects the budget of
the commune is completely separated from that for the care of
the poor.

Above all these organizations the commission provided for a
system of Central Inspection, and a Superior Council of Public
Relief. The inspectors are appointed by the King, at least one
for each province. Each inspector superintends the service of
public relief in his jurisdiction. The service of inspection at the
time the report was made was under the control of the general
director of the charity organizations and was limited to certain
institutions. But the report extends the duty of the inspectors


over the entire charity service and they are to work toward the
apphcation of sound principles of charity. The report gives the
following in regard to their work: "We are firmly convinced
that a staflf of active and attentive inspectors, who are conscious
of the importance of their task and duties will be competent in
a few years to change completely the entire outlook of our charity

The Superior Council of Public Assistance is composed of
five lawyers, two senators, two members of the House of Depu-
ties, the Director-General of Public Charity, and ten members
appointed by the King. This council is associated with the min-
istry and concerns itself with all questions of relief. Its func-
tions are completely analogous to those of the French Superior
Council. It studies and examines all questions referred to it
by the Minister and through information obtained from the in-
spectors acts as an advisory body, making recommendations as
to changes or reforms in the relief system.

The commission also expressed the desire that there be estab-
lished international agreements in the domain of public charity
for the reciprocal protection of indigent strangers.

Methods of Relief. — The commission divided the indigent into
three classes: (i) those unable to work (children, the aged, sick,
weak, defective, etc.) ; (2) those able to work, but who cannot
find the opportunity to work (involuntary indigent) ; (3) those
unwilling to work. To the first class of indigent, or those unable
to work, the usual forms of help are granted. However, there
is a decided tendency against public outdoor relief. The com-
mission regarded the aid given in homes by public charity as sub-
ject to serious inconveniences and to be resorted to only under
the most imperious circumstances. Outdoor relief by public
charity organizations is to be kept within the narrowest limits,
and wherever possible it is to be given over to local private
charity. The report speaks of the numerous and glaring mis-
uses of public outdoor relief in all countries and especially in
Belgium and of the unsuccessful efforts which have been made
to remove these abuses.

The local or intcrcommunai commissions may, in case of need,
encourage the creation of private associations where they do not
exist or where their number is insufficient, and, in case of neces-


sity, they may grant them subsidies. If there is a lack of pri-
vate associations presenting the proper guarantees, the local or
intercommunal commissions must take it upon themselves to
organize assistance in the homes. They may organize methods
of relief in families or special institutions and may take indigent
persons from an institution where they are not properly treated
and place them in another institution. They may also adopt the
regime of the private family in the charity institutions. Each
commission must have at its disposal a quarantine hospital for
purposes of isolation.

C. Private Charity. — The treatment accorded to private
charity by the commission was in harmony with the most ad-
vanced position of scientific investigation and practical experi-
ence. The extent of private charity in Belgium is very great,
providing for at least one-half of the indigence of the country.
There is a large number of private associations, religious and
secular, and many old and very large endowments for their work.
In more recent times private charity has been very active, the
expenditures in this direction in the last ten years amounting to
almost thirty million francs, the greater portion of which was
spent in the large cities. In addition to a recognition of the
extent of private charity, the commission also recognized its
greater flexibility and power of adaptability to the new forms of
misery arising under changing social conditions when compared
to the more inflexible forms of public charity. Whenever pos-
sible outdoor relief is assigned to private charity. The nature
of the help given includes in the first place, lodging, food, cloth-
ing, fuel, light, hygienical and medical care, funeral expenses,
etc., and in the second place aid in money or in titles to the acqui-
sition of either material or immaterial aid.

E. Co-operation of Public and Private Charity, — One of
the chief problems which occupied the attention of the commis-
sion was the consideration of the means for the establishment of
coherent and fruitful relations betv/een the various branches of
public and private charity. The methods adopted for this pur-
pose in England and France were discussed with reference to
their bearing upon the condition in Belgium. In the first place
it was pointed out that though the system of public charity
should be brought to a high state of development, the charity


efforts would still be only half organized since, as we have seen/
at least one-half of the charity work is performed by private
charity. Both the strong and the weak points in the private
charity system were discussed. The commission recognized
that if it considered it a duty of private initiative to assist in the
alleviation of poverty, then it was also the duty of the state to
encourage private charity in every possible way and especially
by granting its organizations a legal personality and public sub-
sidies. Previous to this time, lack of knowledge of the work of
private charity and political antagonisms had prevented the
legal recognition of private charity organizations and, although
the commission was divided on the question of granting a legal
personality to these organizations, the majority decided that they
should act as persons and so have the same right to be endowed
with a legal personality as have the commercial organizations.
A legal personality is conferred upon every association which
fulfills the following conditions, fixed by law: Smallest possible
number of members, possession of a constitution, publication
annually of its accounts, name and location of the association to
be designated in the constitution as well as its particular end and
the special class of work it intends to do. In addition to this,
each association shall permit inspection of its work and at stated
times give any information that may be useful for the promotion

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 63 of 73)