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"Unemployed" problem is not one which can be solved by a reformed Poor Law. It goes too deep down into the basis of our industrial system to be so easily settled.*
The Casual. Admission to the Casual Ward is obtainable by an order signed by the Relieving Officer or his assistant or by an Overseer, or without order by application to the Master of the Workhouse or the Superintendent of the ward. In return for food and shelter for one night the casual has to perform a task which, in the case of men, consists of breaking from one and a half to four hundred-weight of stones, or picking one pound of unbeaten or two of beaten oakum, without any artificial aid, or three hours' digging, pumping, cutting wood, or grinding corn; for women the alternative is picking half-a-pound of unbeaten or one pound of beaten oakum, or three hours' washing, scrubbing, or cleaning. In return for the second night's accommodation the task is increased to breaking not less than five and not more than thirteen hundred-weight of stones, picking five or eight pounds of oakum, or nine hours' digging, etc., for the men ; and to picking two or four pounds of oakum or nine hours' washing, etc., for the women. The food provided is of the most meagre description, 8oz. bread or 6oz. bread and one pint of gruel or broth for supper and breakfast; 8oz. bread and ifoz. cheese, or 6oz. bread and one pint of soup for dinner, for the men, and 6oz. of bread or one pint of gruel or broth for the women. • The provision made for casuals is the most unsatisfactory part of our Poor Law system, and cannot be much improved without legislation. It has encouraged, if not created, a class of habitual and semi-contented vagrants to whom the allotted task is comparatively easy, whilst to the deserving man or woman, in search of work, it is a cruel infliction. To the habitual casual the ward is a conveniently situated and cheap hotel, to which he can repair once a month; and his going and coming are so scientifically arranged that his return to a particular parish can be calculated to a day. Vagrants, as they come under the Poor Law, have been divided into three classes : (i) those who cannot work ; (ii) those who can work but will not ; and (iii) those who can work and will. The first ought to be in the workhouse ; and the second should, as Ruskin suggested in 1862, “ be set, under compulsion of the strictest nature, to the more painful and degrading forms of necessary toil," until he shall “come to sounder mind respecting the laws of employment." For the third class, the genuine tramp in search of work, there is nothing to be suggested at present but help by means of labor bureaux, provision of food and lodging in the workhouse, and assistance on his journey by means of a ticket entitling him to food at fixed stations along the route specified thereon. This system has been in force in many counties with varying success.
• See Memorandum on Methods of Assisting the Unemployed. Fabian Society. 1904.
In the foregoing pages I have attempted to lay down the lines upon which the Poor Law should be reformed and have pointed out some of the changes which are possible under the existing law. By a stroke of the pen, as it were, the administration of the workhouse might be reformed, the General Order of 1847 might be revised in the light of modern knowledge and ideas, the work of inspection and supervision might be re-organized and rendered more efficient, the out-relief system might be humanized, and the treatment of the children put on a satisfactory basis.
But there is much that cannot be done without legislative sanction, and our politicians and statesmen will not set themselves to the task of Poor Law Reform unless it is forced on them from the outside by the general body of voters on whose support their position in Parliament depends. It is for the mass of the electors to impress on their members and thus on the legislature that the only satisfactory reform of the law will be that which is directed towards the abolition of the present workhouse system and the elimination of pauperism. The administration of the Poor Law should be coordinated with our system of local government, and Boards of Guardians should be transformed into committees of the ordinary municipal authorities. The chief needs are greater popular interest and greater uniformity in the administration of the law. In London the latter can only be obtained by the transfer of Poor Law administration to an enlarged County Council and the complete equalization of the Poor Rate in all the parishes. The latter reform is also required in many other large towns. Then, and not till then, will the rich parishes, which have rid themselves of their responsibilities by demolishing the dwellings of the poor, be made to pay in proportion to their wealth, and the poor parishes, which now pay in proportion to their poverty, be relieved from an unjust burden. In addition the contributions from the national exchequer should be increased and used as an incentive for the proper performance of their functions by the local authorities. Boards of Guardians are often obstructive of reforms authorized by the Local Government Board, dilatory in providing new buildings, etc., and could thus be forced into movement.
The Local Government Act of 1894 abolished property qualification, plural voting and ex-officio Guardianship, and thus made the Boards democratic bodies, so far as mere machinery goes. The working classes, who make up four-fifths of the people, can control the elections if they will, and by their ignorance or inaction are mainly responsible for the persistence of the present state of things. The possibility of a humane administration of the law depends on the creation of an enlightened public opinion, which will sweep away the gentlemen of no occupation and the retired publicans, who, up to the present, have so often been elected to protect the rates and grind the poor, and the election of administrators, of whatever class or sex, on the ground of their knowledge and capacity.
The expense of relieving the poor, who are not wilfully improvident, is part of the ransom that Property has to pay to Labor; and it is a ransom which is not begged as a charity but demanded as an instalment of justice. With the growth of enlightenment and the spread of humane ideas amongst all classes, and consequently greater intelligence amongst the mass of voters in the use of their political power, we shall have better laws better administered. The wornout, deserving worker will be maintained in self-respect in his old age; the temporarily disabled will be helped without pauperization; the children will be started in life without stigma; the professional shirker will be forced to earn his own living; the vicious and criminal will be put under restraint. Pauperism will be blotted out; Poverty will be a social disease; and Idleness will be a social crime.
This may be to-day a fantastic dream, but the dreams of to-day will be the facts of to-morrow.
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY. The books on the Poor Law are numerous enough to form a considerable library. The following are amongst the more recent, accessible and useful :ASCHCROTT, P. F. (tr.). The English poor law. [Many authorities referred to in the
index.] 1902, Knight, Second edition, 12s. BOSANQUET, B. (editor). Aspects of the social problem, by various writers. 1895,
Macmillan, 2/6 n. BOSANQUET, Mrs. B. Rich and poor. 1898, Macmillan, 3/6 n. CHANCE, Sir W., Bt. The better administration of the poor law. 1895, Sonnenschein, 6s.
Children under the poor law. 1898, Sonnenschein, 7/6.
Our treatment of the poor. 1899, King, 2/6. DEVINE, EDUARD. The principles of relief (in America and elsewhere). 1904, Mac
millan, 8/6 n. EDEN, Sir F. N. State of the poor. 3 vol. [Bibliography of early books on subject.]
1797, 0.p. FOWLE, Rev. T. W. The poor law. (English citizen series.) 1892, Macmillan, 2/6. Loch, C. S. Charity organization. 1890, Sonnenschein, 216. LONSDALE, SOPHIA. The English poor laws : their history, principles, and adminis
tration. 1897, King, is. n. LUBBOCK, GERTRUDE. Some poor relief questions. (Collection of arguments and
quotations on both sides.) 1895, Murray, 716. MACKAY, T. The English poor. 1889, Murray, 7/6.
History of the English poor law. Supplementary vol. to Nicholls' history (below). 1899, King, 7/6 n. MACKENZIE, W. W. The powers and duties of poor law guardians. 4th edn. 1895,
Shaw, 7/6. NICHOLLS, Sir G. History of the English poor law. 2 vols. New edn. (See also
MACKAY, T.) 1898, King, 10/6 n. RIBTON TURNER, C. J. History of vagrancy and vagrants. 1887, Chapman, o.p. ROGERS, FREDERICK. The care of the aged poor in other countries and in England.
1905, Co-operative Printing Society, Tudor-street, E.C., etc., id. SELLERS, EDITH. The Danish poor relief system : an example for England. 1904,
King, 25. D. TREVELYAN, Rev. W. P. Poor law children (The boarding out system). King, 28. n. TWINING, L. Work houses and pauperism and women's work in the administration of
the poor law. 1898, Methuen, 2/6. Local Government Board. Annual report for England. [Parl. Paper.] King; about 5s. Poor law commission, 1834 (reprinted 1885). King, 2/9. Poor law conferences. Annual bound vol. of central and district conferences; with
index. King, 125. Annual central conference, is. District conferences, Is. each.
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