1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Poor Law

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POOR LAW. The phrase “poor law” in English usage denotes the legislation embodying the measures taken by the state for the relief of paupers and its administration. The history of the subject and its problems generally are dealt with in the article Charity and Charities, and other information will be found in Unemployment and Vagrancy. This article will deal only with the practice in the United Kingdom as adopted after the reform of the poor law in 1834 and amended by subsequent acts. This reform was brought about mainly by the rapid increase of the poor rate at the beginning of the 10th century, showing that a change was necessary either in the poor law as it then existed or in the mode of its administration.

A commission was appointed in 1832 “to make diligent and full inquiry into the practical operation of the laws for the relief of the poor in England and Wales, and into the manner in which those laws were administered, and to report their opinion as to what beneficial alterations could be made.” The commissioners reported “fully on the great abuse of the legislative provision for the poor as directed to be employed by the statute of Elizabeth, ” finding “that the great source of abuse was the outdoor relief afforded to the able-bodied on their own account or on that of their families, given either in kind or in money.” They also reported that “great maladministration existed in the workhouses.” To remedy the evils they proposed considerable alterations in the law, and the principal portion of their suggestions was embodied in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. By virtue of this act three commissioners were appointed (originally for five years, but subsequently continued from time to time), styled “the poor law commissioners for England and Wales,” sitting as a board, and appointing assistant commissioners and other officers. The administration of relief according to the existing laws was subject to their direction and control, and to their orders and regulations, for the government of workhouses and the guidance and control of guardians and vestries and the keeping and allowing of accounts and contracts, without interfering with ordinary relief in individual cases. The whole of England and Wales was divided into twenty-one districts, to each of which an assistant commissioner was appointed. The commissioners under their powers formed poor law unions by uniting parishes for general administration, and building workhouses, guardians elected by the ratepayers (or ex officio) having the general government and administration of relief. The expense was apportioned to each parish on settled principles and rules, with power, however, to treat the united parishes as one for certain purposes. Outdoor relief might be given, on the order of two justices, to poor persons wholly unable to work from old age or infirmity.

The obstacles which the act had to contend with in London chiefly arose from the confusion and perplexity of jurisdiction which existed in the one hundred and seventy parishes comprised within the city of London and the metropolitan district, some of these containing governing bodies of their own; in some the parish business was professedly managed by open vestries, in others by select vestries, and in addition to these there were elective vestries, while the majority of the large parishes were managed under local acts by boards of directors, governors and trustees. These governing bodies executed a great variety of functions besides regulating the management of the poor. The power, patronage and the indirect advantages which arose from the administration of the local funds were so great that much opposition took place when it was proposed to interfere by constituting a board to be annually chosen and freely elected by the ratepayers, on which the duty of regulating the expenditure for the relief of the poor was to depend, The general management of the poor was, however, on a somewhat better footing in London than in the country.

The act of 1854 was rather to restore the scope and intention of the statute of Elizabeth by placing its administration in the hands of responsible persons chosen by the ratepayers, and themselves controlled by the orders of a central body, than to create a new system of poor laws. The agents and instruments by which the administration of relief is afforded are the following. The description applies to the year 1910, but, as noticed below, the question of further reform was already to the fore, and the precise direction in which changes should go was a highly controversial matter.

The guardians of the poor regulate the cases, and description of relief within the union; a certain number of guardians are elected from time to time by the ratepayers. The number was formerly determined by the central board,[1] by whom full directions as to the mode of election Guardians. were given. In addition to those elected there were ex officio guardians, principally local magistrates. However, both these and nominated guardians were done away with by the Local Government Act 1894. The plural vote (which gave to the votes of the larger ratepayers a higher value) was also abolished; and in place of the old property qualification for the office of guardian a rate paying or residential qualification was substituted. In urban districts the act in other respects left the board of guardians untouched, but in rural districts it inaugurated a policy of consolidating local authorities. In the rural districts the district council is practically amalgamated with the guardians, for, though each body retains a separate corporate existence, the district councillors are the guardians, and guardians as such are no longer elected. These electoral changes, extremely democratic in their character, brought about no marked general change in poor law administration. Here and there abrupt changes of policy were made, but the difficulty of bringing general principles to bear on the administration of the law remained much as before.

The guardians hold their meetings frequently, according to the exigencies of the union. Individual cases are brought to their notice—most cases of resident poor by the relieving officer of the union; the case of casual paupers by him or by the workhouse officers by whom they were admitted in the first instance. The resident poor frequently appear in person before the guardians. The mode of voting which the guardians follow in respect to any matter they differ on is minutely regulated, and all their proceedings, as well as those of their officers, -are entered in prescribed books and forms. They have a clerk, generally a local solicitor of experience, who has a variety of responsible duties in advising, conducting correspondence and keeping books of accounts, and carrying out the directions of the guardians, who in their turn are subject to the general or special regulations of the local government board.

It may be mentioned here that the chief difficulty in understanding the English poor law arises from the fact that there are three authorities, each of them able to alter its administration fundamentally. The poor law is not only the creation of statutes passed by parliament; it is also controlled by the subordinate jurisdiction of the local government board, which in virtue of various acts has the power to issue orders. In a single year the local government board may issue nearly two thousand orders, over a thousand of them having special reference to the poor law. It is not possible therefore even to summarize the mass of subordinate legislation. A third source of authority is the local board of guardians, which, within the discretion allowed to it by statutes and orders, can so variously administer the law that it is difficult to understand how procedure so fundamentally different can be based on one and the same law. This elasticity, admirable or mischievous, as we choose to regard it, is the most characteristic feature of the English poor law system. The various officers of the union, from the medical officers to workhouse porters, including masters and matrons of workhouses, are generally appointed by the guardians, and the areas, duties and salaries of all the paid officers may be prescribed by the local government board.

Among a multitude of miscellaneous duties and powers of the guardians, apart from the ordinary duties of ordering or refusing relief in individual cases and superintending the officers of the union, the duties devolve on them of considering the adjustment of contributions to the common fund whether of divided or added parishes, and matters affecting other unions, the building of workhouses and raising of money for that and other purposes, the taking of land on lease, the hiring of buildings, special provisions as to superannuation and allowances to officers, the maintenance and orders as to lunatics apart from individual instances, and the consideration of questions of settlement and removal. A paramount obligation rests on the guardians to attend to the actual visitation of workhouses, schools and other institutions and places in which the poor are interested, and to call attention to and report on any irregularity or neglect of duty. Guardians may charge the rates with the expenses of attending conferences for the discussion of matters connected with their duties (Poor Law Conferences Act 1883). In relation to expenditure the guardians have very considerable but restricted powers. Their accounts are audited by district auditors appointed by the local government board.

Overseers of the poor are still appointed under the statute of Elizabeth, and the guardians cannot interfere with the appointment. As, however, the relief of the poor is administered by boards of guardians, the principal duties of overseers relate to the making and collection of rates Overseers. and payments. The guardians, by order of the local government board, may appoint assistant overseers and collectors.

The conditions of persons entitled to relief are indicated by the terms of the statute of Elizabeth. If they fall within the definitions there given they have right to relief. A fundamental principle with respect to legal relief Conditions of Relief. of the poor is that the condition of the pauper ought to be, on the whole, less eligible than that of the independent labourer. The pauper has no just ground for complaint, if, while his physical wants are adequately provided for, his condition is less eligible than that of the poorest class of those who contribute to his support. If a state of destitution exists, the failure of third persons to perform their duty, as a husband, or relative mentioned in the statute of Elizabeth, neglecting those he is under a legal obligation to support, is no answer to the application. The relief should be afforded, and is often a condition precedent to the right of parish officers to take proceedings against the relatives or to apply to other poor unions. The duty to give immediate relief must, however, vary with the circumstances. The case of Wanderers under circumstances not admitting of delay may be different from that of persons resident on the spot where inquiry as to all the circumstances is practicable. The statute of Elizabeth contemplated that the relief was to be afforded to the poor resident in the parish, but it is contrary to the spirit of the law that any person shall be permitted to perish from starvation or want of medical assistance. Whoever is by sudden emergency or urgent distress deprived of the ordinary means of subsistence has a right to apply for immediate relief where he may happen to be. Persons comprehended within this class are called “casual poor,” although the term “casuals” is generally used in reference to vagrants who take refuge for a short time in the “casual wards” of workhouses. Various tests are applied to ascertain whether applicants are really destitute. Labour tests are applied to the able-bodied, and workhouse tests are applied to those to Whom entering a workhouse is made a condition of relief.

As to the nature and kind of relief given under the poor laws the great distinction restored rather than introduced by the amendment of the poor law system in 1834 was Nature and giving all relief to able-bodied persons of their families in well-regulated workhouses (that is to Nature and Kind of Relief. say, places where they may be set to work according to the spirit and intention of the statute of Elizabeth), and confining outdoor relief to the impotent-that is, all except the able bodied and their families. Although workhouses formed a conspicuous feature in legislation for the poor from an early period, the erection of those buildings for unions throughout the country where not already provided followed immediately on the amendment of the system in 1834. Since that time there has been a constant struggle between the pauper class and the administrators of the law, the former naturally wishing to be relieved at their own homes, and in many instances choosing rather to go without aid than to remove within the walls of the workhouse. Relief given in a workhouse is termed “in (or indoor) maintenance” relief, and when given at the homes of the paupers is termed “outdoor relief.”

Admission to a workhouse may be by a written order oft the board of guardians, or by the master or matron (or in their absence by the porter) without an order in any case of sudden or urgent necessity, or provisionally by a relieving officer, or overseer or churchwarden. Any person who Workhouse Rules. is brought by a policeman as having been found wandering in a state of destitution may be admitted. It is to be observed generally, with respect to all persons who may apply for admission into the workhouse under circumstances of urgent necessity, that their destitution, coupled with the fact of being within the union or parish, entitles them to relief, altogether independently of their settlement, if they have one, which is a matter for subsequent inquiry.

The regulations for the government of workhouses fall under two classes: (1) those which are necessary for the maintenance of good order in any building in which considerable numbers of persons of both sexes and of different ages reside; (2) those which are necessary in order that these establishments may not be almshouses, but workhouses in the proper meaning of the term. The inmates of a workhouse are necessarily separated into certain classes. In no well-managed institution of this sort, in any country, are males and females, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick, indiscriminately mixed together. Guardians are required to divide the paupers into certain classes, and to subdivide any one or more of these classes in any manner which may be advisable, and which the internal arrangements of the workhouse admit; and the guardians are required from time to time, after consulting the medical officer, to make necessary arrangements with regard to persons labouring under any disease of body or mind, and, so far as circumstances permit, to subdivide any of the enumerated classes with reference to the moral character or behaviour or the previous habits of the inmates, or to such other grounds as may seem expedient. The separation of married couples was long a vexed question, the evils on the one hand arising from the former unrestricted practice being very great, while on the other hand the separation of old couples was felt as a great hardship, and by express statutory provision in 1847 husband and wife, both being above the age of sixty, received into a workhouse cannot be compelled to live separate and apart from each other (10 & 11 Vict. c. log, § 23). This exemption was carried somewhat further by contemporaneous orders of the board, under which guardians were not compelled to separate infirm couples, provided they had a sleeping apartment separate from that of other paupers; and in 1876 guardians were empowered, at their discretion, to permit husband and wife where either of them is infirm, sick or disabled by any injury, or above sixty years of age to live together, but every such case must be reported to the local government board (39 & 40 Vict. c. 61, § 10).

The classification of children apart from adult paupers is peremptory. Even in those unions where what is called a workhouse school is maintained the children are kept in detached parts of the building, and do not associate with the adult paupers. The separate school is built on a separate and often distant site. Sometimes the separate school is one building, sometimes detached “ blocks, " and sometimes a group of cottage homes. There still remain ten district schools. In some places an experiment which is called the scattered homes system has been adopted. This consists in lodging-homes for the children placed indifferent parts of the town, from which the children attend the local public elementary schools. In the rural districts and in less populous unions the children generally attend the local public elementary school. To these expedients boarding-out must be added. The above refers of course only to those children who as inmates are under the charge of the guardians. Outdoor paupers are responsible for the education of their children, but guardians cannot legally continue outdoor relief if the children are not sent regularly to school.

The tendency too has been to improve administrative methods with reference to children.

Two important orders on the subject of the boarding-out of poorlaw children were issued in 1889. By the Boarding of Children in Unions Order, orphan and deserted children can be boarded out with suitable foster-parents in the union by all boards of guardians except those in the metropolis. This can be done either through a voluntary committee or directly. By the Boarding Out Order, orphan and deserted children may be boarded out by all boards of guardians without the limits of their own unions, but in all cases this must be done through the offices of properly constituted local boarding-out committees. The sum payable to the foster-parents is not to exceed 4s. per week for each child. The local committee require to be approved by the Local Government Board. The question of the education of poor law children was much discussed in later years. During the early years of the central authority, it was the object of the commissioners to induce boards of guardians to unite in districts for educational purposes. This was advocated on grounds of efficiency and economy. It was ve unpopular with the local authorities, and the number of such districts has never exceeded a dozen. In London, where this aggregation was certainly less desirable than in rural unions, several districts were formed and large district schools were built. Adverse criticism, by Mrs Nassau Senior in 1874, and by a department committee appointed twenty years later, was directed against these large, or, as they are invidiously called, barrack schools. The justice of this condemnation has been disputed, but it seems probable that some of these schools had grown too large. Many of these have been dissolved by order of the local government board on the application of the unions concerned. This condemnation of some schools has in certain quarters been extended to all schools, and is construed by others as an unqualified recommendation of boarding out, a method of bringing up poor law children obviously requiring even more careful supervision than is needed in the publicity of a school.

Other acts to be noted are the Poor Law Act 1889 and the Custody of Children Act 1891, § 3. The evil of allowing children who have been reputably brought up in poor law schools to relapse into vicious habits on return to the custody of unworthy parents has been the subject of frequent remark. By the act of 1889, guardians are authorized to detain children who are under their charge, as having been deserted by their parents, up to the age of 16 if boys and of 18 if girls. By the Poor Law Act 1899 the principle is extended to orphans and the children of bad parents chargeable to the rates. The act of 1891 goes further, and enacts that where a parent has (a) abandoned or deserted his child, or (b) allowed his child to be brought up by another person at that person's expense, or by the guardians of a poor law union for such a length of time and in such circumstances as to satisfy the court that the parent was unmindful of his parental duties, the court shall not make an order for the delivery of the child to the parent unless the parent has satisfied the court that, having regard to the welfare of the child, he is a fit person to have the custody of the child.

Casual and poor wayfarers admitted by the master and matron are kept in a separate ward and dieted and set to work in such manner as the guardians by resolution direct; and whenever any vagrants or mendicants are received into a workhouse they are usually (as a precaution necessary for preventing the introduction of infectious or contagious diseases) kept entirely separate from the other inmates, unless their stay exceeds a single night. For the guidance of guardians an important circular was issued from the local government board on the 15th of March 1886. It stated that while “ the board have no doubt that the powers which the guardians possess are fully sufficient to enable them to deal with ordinary pauperism, and to meet the demand for relief from the classes who usually seek it, " yet “ these provisions do not in all cases meet the emergency. What is required to relieve artisans and others who have hitherto avoided poor law assistance, and who are temporarily deprived of employment, is—(1) Work which will not involve the stigma of pauperism; (2) work which all can perform, whatever may have been their previous occupations; (3) work which does not compete with that of other labourers at present in employment; and lastly, work which is not likely to interfere with the resumption of regular employment in their own trades by those who seek it.”

The circular went on to recommend that guardians should confer with the local authorities, “and endeavour to arrange with the latter for the execution of works on which unskilled labour may be immediately employed." The conditions of such work were (1) the men to be employed must be recommended by the guardians; (2) the wages must be less than the wages ordinarily paid for such work.

The circular was widely distributed. Many boards that were inclined in that direction regarded it as an encouragement to open or to promote the opening of relief works. Others, again, looked closely at the conditions, and declared roundly that it was impossible to fulfil them. A poor law authority, they said, cannot give relief which will not subject the recipients to the legal (if any) and economic disabilities attaching to the receipt of poor law relief. Work which all can perform can only be found in the shape of task-work under adequate supervision. If the work is of a useful and necessary character, it must compete with the labour of others belonging to the trades affected. If the relief works are opened by authorities other than the poor law guardians, the conditions that the men were only to be employed when recommended by the guardians, and then paid less than the current rate of wages, were calculated, it was urged, to secure bad work, discontent, and all the “stigma of pauperism.” The ambiguity of the circular indeed was such, that both action and inaction seem amply justified by it.

In the administration of medical relief to the sick, the objects kept in view are: (1) to provide medical aid for persons who are really destitute, and (2) to prevent medical relief from generating or encouraging pauperism, and with this view to withdraw from the labouring classes, as well Medical Relief. as from the administrators of relief and the medical officers, all motives for applying for or administering medical relief, unless where the circumstances render it absolutely necessary. Unions are formed into medical districts limited in area and population, to which a paid medical officer is appointed, who is furnished with a list of all such aged and infirm persons and persons permanently sick or disabled as are actually receiving relief and residing within the medical officer's district. Every person named in the list receives a ticket, and on exhibiting it to the medical officer is entitled to advice, attendance and medicine as his case may require. Medical outdoor relief in connexion with dispensaries is regulated in asylum districts of the metropolis by the Metropolitan Poor Act 1867 (30 & 31 Vict. c. 6). In connexion with medical relief must be noted the Medical Relief Disqualification Removal Act 1885. This act relieved voters from disqualification which would otherwise attach in consequence of the receipt by them or their families of medical or surgical assistance, or of medicine, at the expense of the poor rate. This does not apply to guardian elections, and it does not include persons who, in addition to medical relief, receive nourishment or other relief from the poor rate. The provisions which require the removal of the names of paupers from the electoral roll are, it is understood, very perfunctorily carried out. The Outdoor Relief Friendly Societies Act 1894 authorized guardians, in calculating the proper allowance to be made, to disregard an income derived from a friendly society, and to give relief as if the applicant in receipt of such an allowance was wholly destitute. This act is a curious illustration of the English poor law system. In earlier years, notably in what is known as Paget's letter (22nd Rep. Poor Law Board, p. 108), the central board, had, in answer to inquiry, pointed out that such preferential treatment given to men receiving benefit, insufficient to maintain them, from a friendly society, could not in equity be withheld from persons in receipt of an adequate benefit, or from those whose savings took the form of a deposit in a bank, of a share in a co-operative society, or of cottage property; and further, that an engagement on the part of guardians to supplement insufficient allowance from a friendly society was a bounty on inadequate and insolvent friendly society finance. The central board went so far as to say that relief given in such disregard of the pauper's income was illegal. They had, however, issued no peremptory order on the subject, nor had guardians been surcharged for neglect of the rule. The local authorities followed their own discretion, and a very general practice was to reckon friendly society allowances at half their value. The above act set aside the central board's earlier interpretation of the law. It .made, however, no attempt to enforce its procedure on the numerous boards of guardians who regard the course thereby authorized as contrary to public policy.

A lunatic asylum is required to be provided by a county or borough for the reception of pauper lunatics, with a committee of visitors who, among other duties, fix a weekly sum to be charged for the lodging, maintenance, medicine and clothing of each pauper lunatic confined in such asylum. Several Lunatics. acts were passed. The Lunacy Act 1890 consolidated the acts affecting lunatics. It was further amended by the Lunacy Act 1891. An explanatory letter issued by the local government board will be found in the 20th Annual Report, p. 23. The tendency of this and of all recent legislation for an afflicted class has been to increase the care and the safeguards for their proper treatment. A settlement is the right acquired in any one of the modes pointed out by the poor laws to become a recipient of the benefit of those laws in that parish or place where the right has been last acquired.

No relief is given from the poor rates of a parish to any person who does not reside within the union, except where such person being casually within a parish becomes destitute by sudden distress, or where such person is entitled to receive relief from any parish where non-resident under justice’s order (applicable to persons under The Question of “Settlement.” orders of removal and to non-resident lunatics), and except to widows and legitimate children where the widow was resident with her husband at the time of his death out of the union in which she was not settled, or where a child under sixteen is maintained in a workhouse or establishment for the education of pauper children not situate in the union, and in some other exceptional cases. Immediately before the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 settlements were acquired by birth, hiring and service, apprenticeship, renting a tenement, estate, office or payment of rates. In addition to these an acknowledgment (by certificate), by relief or acts of acquiescence) has practically the effect of a settlement, for, if unexplained, such an acknowledgment stops the parish from disputing a settlement in the parish acknowledging. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 abolished settlement by hiring and service (or by residence under it) and by serving an office, and by apprenticeship in the sea service. Moreover the guardians of a union might agree (subject to the approval of the commissioners) that all the parishes forming it should for the purposes of settlement be considered as one parish.

It is to be observed that, for the purposes of relief, settlement and removal and burial. the workhouse of any parish is considered as situated in the parish to which each poor person is chargeable. There may be a settlement by parentage, for legitimate children take the settlement of their father, or if he has no settlement they are entitled to the settlement of their mother; and it is only when both these sources fail discovery that their right of settlement by birth accrues; for until the settlement of the father or mother has been ascertained the settlement of a legitimate child, like that of a bastard, is in the place where the birth took place. A settlement attaches to those persons who have a settlement of some kind. Foreigners born out of the country and not acquiring any in one of the modes pointed out must be provided for, if requiring relief, where they happen to be.

As the burden of maintaining the poor is thrown .on the parish of settlement, when the necessity for immediate relief arises in another parish, the important question arises whether the pauper can be removed; for, although the parish where the pauper happens to be must afford immediate relief without waiting for removal, the parish of settlement cannot in general be charged with the cost unless the pauper is capable of being removed. The question of removability is distinct from settlement. A pauper often acquires a status or irremovability without gaining a settlement. lrremovability is a principle of great public importance quite irrespective of the incident of cost as between one parish or another. Before the introduction of a status of irremovability removal might take place (subject to powers of suspension in case of sickness and otherwise) after any interval during which no legal settlement was obtained; mere length of residence without concurrent circumstances involving the acquisition of a settlement on obtaining relief gave no right to a person to remain in the parish where he resided.

In 1846 it was enacted that no person should be removed nor any warrant granted for the removal of any person from any parish in which such persons had resided for five years (9 & 10 Vict. c. 66). In 1861 three years was submitted for five (24 & 25 Vict. c. 55); and only four years later one year was substituted for three (28 & 29 Vict. c. 79). Apart from these reductions of time in giving the status of irremovability, actual removals to the parish of settlement were narrowed by provisions giving to residence ill any part of a union the same effect as a residence in any parish of that union (24 & 25 Vict. c. 55). On the other hand the time during which parish relief is received, or during which the person is in any poorhouse or hospital or in a prison, is excluded from the computation of time (9 & 10 Vict. c. 66).

The removability as well as the settlement of the family, i.e. of the wife and unemancipated children, are practically subject to one and the same general rule. Wherever any person has a wife or children having another settlement, they are removable where he is removable, and are not removable from any parish or place from which he is not removable (11 & 12 Vict. c. 211).

It is to be borne in mind that no person exempted from liability to be removed acquires, by reason of such exemption, any settlement in any parish; but a residence for three years gives a qualified settlement (39 & 40 Vict. c. 61).

The cost of relief of paupers rendered irremovable is borne by the common fund of the union (11 & 12 Vict. c. 1 10, § :3) as union expenses (§ 6), and any question arising in the union with reference to the charging relief may be referred to and decided by the local government board (§ 4).

The poor rate is the fund from which the cost of relief is principally derived. The statute of Elizabeth (extended in some respects as to places by 13 & 14 Charles II. c. 12) embraced two classes of persons subject to taxation—occupiers of real property and inhabitants in respect of personal property, although the rate ability under the latter head was reluctantly Poor Rate. conceded by the courts of law, and was in practice only partially acted upon.

As regards occupiers of land and houses, the correct principles as to the persons liable to be rated were, after many erroneous views and decisions, established by the House of Lords in 1865 in the case of the Mersey docks. The only occupier exempt from the operation of the act of Elizabeth is the Crown, on the general principle that such liabilities are not imposed on the sovereign unless expressly mentioned, and that principle applies to the direct and immediate servants of the Crown, whose occupation is the occupation of the Crown itself. If there is a personal private beneficial occupation, so that the occupation is by the subject, that occupation is rateable. Thus for apartments in a royal palace, gratuitously assigned to a subject, who occupies them by permission of the sovereign but for the subjects benefit, the latter is rateable; on the other hand, where a lease of private property is taken in the name of a subject, but the occupation is by the sovereign or his subjects on his behalf, no rate can be imposed. So far the ground of exemption is perfectly intelligible, but it has been carried a good deal further, and applied to many cases in which it can scarcely be said naturally, but only theoretically, that the sovereign or the servants of the sovereign are in occupation. A long series of cases have established that when property is occupied for the purposes of the government of the country, including under that head the police, and the administration of justice, no one is rateable in respect of such occupation. And this applies not only to property occupied for such purposes by the servants of the great departments of state and the post office, the Horse Guards, and the Admiralty, in all which cases the occupiers might strictly be called the servants of the Crown, but to county buildings occupied for the assizes and for the judge's lodgings, to stations for the local constabulary, to jails and to county courts where undertakings are carried out by or for the government and the government is in occupation; the same principles of exemption have been applied to property held by the office of works.

When the property is not de facto occupied by the Crown or for the Crown, it is rateable; and, although formerly the uses of property for public purposes, even where the Crown was not constructively interested in the way above pointed out, was treated as a ground for exemption, it is now settled that trustees who are in law the tenants and occupiers of valuable property in trust for public and even charitable purposes, such as hospitals or lunatic asylums, are in principle rateable notwithstanding that the buildings are actually occupied by paupers who are sick or insane, and that the notion that persons in the legal occupation of valuable property are not rateable if they occupy in a merely fiduciary character cannot be sustained.

With respect to the particular person to be rated Where there is a rateable occupation, it is to be observed that the tenant, as distinguished from the landlord, is the person to be rated under the statute of Elizabeth; but occupiers of tenements let for short terms may deduct the poor rate paid by them from their rents, or the vestries may order such owners to be rated instead of the occupiers; such payments or deductions do not affect qualification and franchises depending on rating (Poor Rate Assessment and Collection Act 1869 and Amendment Act 1882).

To be rated the occupation must be such as to he of value, and in this sense the word beneficial occupation has been used in many cases. But it is not necessary that the occupation should be beneficial to the occupier; for, if that were necessary, trustees occupying for various purposes, having no beneficial occupation, would not be liable, and their general liability has been established as indicated in the examples just given.

As to the mode and amount of rating it is no exaggeration to say that the application of a landlord-and-tenant valuation in the terms already given in the Parochial Assessment Act, with the deductions there mentioned, has given rise to litigation on which millions of pounds have been spent with respect to the rating of railways alone, although the established principle applied to them, after much consideration, is to calculate the value of the land as increased by the line.

The Parochial Assessment Act referred to (6 & 7 Will. IV. c. 96), comprising various provisions as to the mode of assessing the rate so far as it authorized the making of a valuation, was repealed in 1869, in relation to the metropolis, and other provisions made for securing uniformity of the assessment of rateable property there (32 & 33 Vict. c. 67).

The mode in which a rate is made and recovered may be concisely stated thus. The guardians appoint an assessment committee of their body for the investigation and supervision of valuations, which are made out in the first instance by the overseers according to specific regulations and in a form showing among other headings the gross estimated rental of all property and the names of occupiers and owners, and the rateable value after the deductions specified in the Assessment Act already mentioned, and as prescribed by the central board. This valuation list, made and signed by the overseers, is published, and all persons assessed or liable to be assessed, and other interested parties, may, including the officers of other parishes, inspect and take copies of and extracts from that list. A multitude of provisions exist in relation to the valuation and supplemental valuation lists. Objections on the ground of unfairness or incorrectness are dealt with by the committee, who hold meetings to hear and determine such objections. The valuation list, where approved by the committee, is delivered to the overseers, who proceed to make the rate in accordance with the valuation lists and in a prescribed form of rate book. The parish officers certify to the examination and comparison of the rate book with the assessments, and obtain the consent of justices as required by the statute of Elizabeth. This consent or allowance of the rate is merely a ministerial act, and if the rate is good on the face of it the justices cannot inquire into its validity.

The rate is then published and open to inspection. Appeals may be made to special or quarter sessions against the rate, subject to the restriction that, if the objection were such that it might have been dealt with on the valuation lists, no appeal to sessions is permitted unless the valuation list has been duly objected to and the objector had failed to obtain such relief in the matter as he deemed to be just.

In the metropolis a common basis of value for the purposes of government and local taxation is provided, including the promotion of uniformity in the assessment of rateable property. Provision is made for the appointment of an assessment committee by guardians or vestries, and for the preparation of valuation lists, and the deposit and distribution of valuation lists, and for the periodical revision of valuation lists.

Many endeavours have been made to readjust the burden of local expenditure. The system of making grants from the national taxes in aid of local rates has been extended. The principle of the metropolitan common poor fund, a device for giving metropolitan grants assessed on the whole of London in aid of the London local poor law authorities, has been followed, mutatis mutandis, in the relations between the national and the local exchequers. At the time of the repeal of the corn laws, Sir Robert Peel expressed an opinion that this fiscal change necessitated some readjustment of local rates. In that year, 1846, a beginning of grants from the national exchequer in aid of local expenditure was made. The salaries of poor-law teachers, medical officers and auditors were provided from the larger area of taxation, and in 1867 the salaries of public vaccinators were added to the list. In 1874 a grant of 4s. per head per week was made for each pauper lunatic passed by the guardians to the care of a lunatic asylum. By the Local Government Act 1888, supplemented by the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act 1890, this principle was more widely extended. The various grants in aid were abolished, and in substitution the proceeds of certain specified taxes were set aside for local purposes. From this source, the gross amount of which of course varies, there are now distributed to local poor-law authorities some 4s. a week for lunatics in asylums, and allowances based on their average expenditure in previous years in salaries of officials and other specified charges. In London, in order not to conflict with the operation of the common poor fund, which had already spread these charges over a wide area, the grant takes the form of a sum equivalent to about 4d. per diem for each indoor pauper. The number on which this calculation is based is not, however, to be the actual number, but the average of the last five years previous to the passing of the act. By this legislation something like one-quarter of the total expenditure on poor law relief is obtained from national taxes as opposed to local rates. By the Agricultural Rates Act 1896 the occupier of agricultural land was excused one-half of certain rates, including the poor rate. The deficiency is supplied by a contribution from the national exchequer. Meanwhile, the spending authority continue to be elected by the local ratepayers. In this connexion two further anomalies deserve notice. By the Poor Rate Assessment and Collection Act 1869 owners who compound to pay the-rates in respect of tenement property are entitled to certain deductions by way of commission. Such payments by the owner are constructively payments by the occupier, who thereby is to be deemed duly rated for any qualification or franchise. Under these arrangements a large number of electors do not contribute directly to the rate. A converse process is also going on, whereby the ownership of an important and increasing body of property is practically unrepresented. This is due to the great growth of property in the hands of railway companies, docks and limited liability companies generally. The railways alone are said to pay considerably over 13% of the local taxation of the country, and they have no local representation. There is, in fact, in local administration a divorce between representation and taxation to a greater extent than is generally supposed, and it is impossible not to connect the fact with the rapid growth of local expenditure and indebtedness.

Royal Commission of 1905–1909.—The main points of the system of English poor relief, as still in force in 1910, are as outlined above. That it has been inadequate in dealing with the various problems of unemployment and pauperism, which the constantly changing conditions of the industrial world necessarily, evolve had however been long acknowledged. Accordingly in 1905 a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the Working of the law relating to the relief of poor persons, and into the various means adopted outside of the poor laws for meeting distress arising from want of employment, particularly during the periods of severe industrial depression. The commission took voluminous evidence[2] and its report was issued in 1909. It consists of a majority report, signed by the chairman and 13 other members, and a minority report signed by 4 dissentient members. To this report and its appendices those who wish to obtain an exhaustive account of the working of the English poor law must necessarily have recourse.

The “majority” report opens with a statistical survey of poor law problems, gives an historical sketch of the poor laws down to 1834, and proceeds to deal in detail with the historical development and present condition of the various branches of the poor law under their appropriate Majority Report. headings: (a) the central authority; (b) the local authority; (c) the officers of the local authority; (d) areas of administration; (e) indoor relief; (f) outdoor relief; (g) the aged; (h) the children; (i) the able-bodied under the poor law and (j) the causes of pauperism. Other portions of the report deal with medical relief, distress due to unemployment, and charities and the relief of distress. In reviewing these various subjects the commission lay bare the main defects of the present system, which they briefly summarize as follows:—

i. The inadequacy of existing poor law areas to meet the growing needs of administration.

ii. The excessive size of many boards of guardians.

iii. The absence of any general interest in poor law work and poor law elections, due in great part to the fact that poor law stands in no organic relation to the rest of local government.

iv. The lack of intelligent uniformity in the application of principles and in general administration.

v. The want of proper investigation and discrimination in dealing with applicants.

vi. The tendency in many boards of guardians to give outdoor relief without plan or purpose.

vii. The unsuitability of the general workhouse as a test or deterrent for the able-bodied; the aggregation in it of all classes without sufficient classification; and the absence of any system of friendly and restorative help.

viii. The lack of co-operation between poor law and charity.

ix. The tendency of candidates to make lavish promises of out-relief and of guardians to favour their constituents in its distribution.

x. General failure to attract capable social workers and leading citizens.

xi. The general rise in expenditure, not always accompanied by an increase of efficiency in administration.

xii. The want of sufficient control and continuity of policy on the part of the central authority.

The commission stated that these defects have produced a want of confidence in the local administration of the poor law, and that they have been mainly the cause of the introduction of other forms of relief from public funds which are unaccompanied by such conditions as are imperatively necessary as safeguards.

The commission proceed to formulate a scheme of reform, the main features of which are summarized below:—

Public Assistance.—The commissioners state that the name “poor law” has gathered about it associations of harshness, and still more of hopelessness, which might seriously obstruct the reforms they recommend, and they suggest that the title “public assistance” better expresses the system of help outlined in their report. They propose the abolition of the existing boards of guardians, the separation of their duties into two categories, and the calling into existence of two bodies for the discharge of the two sets of functions, viz. a local authority, known as the public assistance authority, with an area conterminous with the area of the county or county borough, for central administration and control; and local committees in existing union areas for dealing with applications, investigating and supervising cases and undertaking such other duties as may be delegated by the public assistance authority. They recommend that the public assistance authority should be a statutory committee of the County Council, with one-half of its members appointed by the council from persons who are members of the council, and the other half of its members appointed by the council from outside their number, and to consist of persons experienced in the local administration of public assistance or other cognate work, women to be eligible for appointment in either case.

Working in co-operation with the public assistance authorities are to be voluntary aid councils and committees (the former supervising, the latter executive) for aiding persons in distress whose cases do not appear to be suitable for treatment by the public assistance committee. The commission epitomize what they consider to be the main principles of a reformed poor law. They are (1) that the treatment of the poor who apply for public assistance should be adapted to the needs of the individual, and, if institutional, should be governed by classification; (2) that the public administration established for the assistance of the poor should work in co-operation with the local and private charities of the district; (5) that the system of public assistance thus established should include processes of help which would be preventive, curative, and restorative, and (4) that every effort should be made to foster the instincts of independence and self-maintenance amongst those assisted. They proceed to recommend:— Indoor orInstitutionalRelief.—That general workhouses should be abolished. That indoor relief should be given in separate institutions appropriate to the following classes of applicants, viz. (a) children, (b) aged and infirm, (c) sick, (d) able-bodied men, (e) able-bodied women, (f) vagrants, and (g) feeble-minded and epileptics. Powers of removal to and detention in institutions should be given, with proper safeguards, to the public assistance authority. The treatment of inmates should be made as far as possible curative and restorative.

Outdoor Relief orHome Assistance.”—This should be given only after thorough inquiry, except in cases of sudden and urgent necessity; it should be adequate to meet the needs of those to whom it is given; persons so assisted should be subject to supervision; that Such supervision should include in its purview the conditions, moral and sanitary, under which the recipient is living; that voluntary agencies should be utilized as far as possible for the personal care of individual cases, and that there should be one uniform order governing outdoor relief or home assistance.

Children.—Effective steps should be taken to secure that the maintenance of children in the workhouse be no longer recognized as a legitimate way of dealing with them. Boarding-out might and should be greatly extended. Power to adopt children of vicious parents should be more frequently exercised and accompanied by a strict dealing with the parent, and the public assistance authorities should retain supervision of adopted children up to the age of twenty-one. A local government board circular of June 1910 to boards of guardians embodied many of the recommendations of the commission. Some recommendations, of course, the guardians are not empowered, under existing legislation, to carry out.

The Aged.—As regards institutional relief, the aged should have accommodation and treatment apart from the able-bodied, and be housed on a separate site, and be further subdivided into classes as far as practicable with reference to their physical condition and their moral character. As regards outdoor relief, greater care should be taken to ensure adequacy of relief.

Medical Relief or Assistance.—A general system of provident dispensaries should be established, of which existing voluntary outdoor medical organizations should be invited to form an integral part, and every inducement should be offered to the working classes below a certain Wage to become, or continue to be, members of a provident dispensary.

Unemployment.—The commission review the social and industrial developments since 1834, deal with the new problems, criticize the existing methods of relief, and on their summing up of the new factors and developments, arrive at the conclusions: (a) that there is an increasing aggregation of unskilled labour at the great ports and in certain populous districts; (b) that this aggregation of low-grade labour is so much in excess of the normal local wants as to promote and perpetuate under-employment, and (c) that this normal condition of under-employment, when aggravated by periodic contraction of trade or by inevitable changes in methods of production, assumes such dimensions as to require special machinery and organization for its relief and treatment. The commission proceed to make the following recommendations:—

Labour Exchanges.—A national system of labour exchanges should be established and worked by the board of trade for the general purpose of assisting the mobility of labour and of collecting accurate information as to unemployment. (These were established by the Labour Exchanges Act 1909; see Unemployment.)

Education and Training of the Young for Industrial Life.—The education in the public elementary schools should be much less literary and more practical, and better calculated than at present to adapt the child to its future occupation. Boys should be kept at school until the age of fifteen; exemption below fifteen should be granted only for boys leaving to learn a skilled trade, and there should be school supervision till sixteen and replacing in school if not properly employed.

Regularization of Employment.—Government departments and local and public authorities should be enjoined to regularize their work as far as possible, and to endeavour, as far as possible, to undertake their irregular work when the general demand for labour is slack.

Unemployment Insurance.—The establishment and promotion of unemployment insurance, especially amongst unskilled and unorganized labour, is of paramount importance in averting distress arising from unemployment, and is of such national importance as to justify, under specified conditions, contributions from public funds towards its furtherance. The commission further state that this insurance can best be promoted by utilizing the agency of existing trade organizations, or of organizations of a similar character. They are of opinion that no scheme of unemployment insurance, either foreign or British, which has been brought before them, is so free from objections as to justify them in recommending it for general adoption.

Labour Colonies.—The commission recommend their establishment and use. (For these see Vagrancy.)

Four out of the seventeen members of the commission, being unable to agree with their colleagues, issued a separate report, which is very nearly as voluminous as that of the majority. Their recommendations were more drastic than those of the majority, and had for their aim Minority Report. not a reform of the poor law as it exists, but its entire breakup. The minority agree with the majority in recommending the abolition of workhouses, but instead of setting up new authorities, they consider that the duties of the guardians should be transferred to the county authorities, with an appropriate distribution among four existing committees of the county council. They recommend that the education committee become responsible for the entire care of children of school age. That the health committee should care for the sick and permanently incapacitated, infants under school age, and the aged requiring institutional care. The asylums committee should have charge of the mentally defective and the pension committee of the aged to whom pensions are awarded.

The minority consider there should be some systematic coordination, within each local area, of all forms of public assistance and, if possible, of all assistance dispensed by voluntary agencies, and they recommend the appointment, by the county or county borough council, of one or more responsible officers, called “registrars of public assistance.” Their duties would be to keep a register of all persons receiving any form of public assistance within their districts; they would assess the charge to be made on individuals liable to pay any part of the cost of the service rendered to them or their dependants, and recover the amount thus due. They would also have to consider the proposals of the various committees of the council for the payment of out-relief, or, as the minority prefer to term it, “home aliment.” Other various duties are allotted to them in the report.

The subject of unemployment was considered by the minority and they made the following recommendations:—

Ministry of Labour.—The duty of organizing the national labour market should be laced upon a minister responsible to parliament. The ministry of labour should have six distinct and separately organized divisions; viz. the national labour exchange; the trade insurance division; the maintenance and training division; the industrial regulation division; the emigration and immigration division, and the statistical division.

National Labour Exchange.—The function of the national labour exchange should be, not only, (a) to ascertain and report the surplus or shortage of labour of particular kinds, at particular places; and ('b) to diminish the time and energy now spent in looking for work, and the consequent leaking between jobs; but also (c) so to dovetail casual and seasonal employments as to arrange for practical continuity of work for those now chronically unemployed.

Absorption of Surplus Labour.'—To reduce the surplus of labour the minority recommend (a) that no child should be employed, in any occupation whatsoever, below the age of fifteen; no young person under eighteen for more than thirty hours per week, and all so employed should be required to attend some suitable public institution for not less than thirty) hours per week for physical training and technical education; (b) the hours of labour of railway, omnibus and tramway employees should be reduced to a maximum of sixty, if not of forty-eight in any one week; and (c) wage-earning mothers of young children should be withdrawn from the industrial world by giving them sufficient public assistance for the support of their families.

Regularization of the National Demand for Labour.—In order to meet the periodically recurrent general depressions of trade the government should take advantage of there being at these periods as much unemployment of capital as there is unemployment of labour; that it should definitely undertake, as far as practicable, the regularization of the national demand for labour; and that it should, for this purpose, and to the extent of at least £4,000,000 a year, arrange a portion of the ordinary work required by each department on a ten years’ programme; £40,000,000 worth of work for the decade being then put in hand, not by equal annual instalments, but exclusively in the lean years of the trade cycle; being paid for out of loans for short terms raised as they are required, and being executed with the best available labour, at standard rates, engaged in the ordinary way. That in this ten years programme there should be included works of afforestation, coast protection and land reclamation; to be carried out by the board of agriculture exclusively in the lean years of the trade cycle; by the most suitable labour obtainable, taken on in the ordinary way at the rates locally current for the work, and paid for out of loans raised as required.

Trade Union Insurance.—In view of its probable adverse effect on trade union membership and organization the minority commissioners cannot recommend the establishment of any plan of government or compulsory insurance against unemployment. They recommend, however, a government subvention not exceeding one half of the sum actually paid in the last preceding year as out-of-work benefit should be offered to trade unions or other societies providing such benefit.

Maintenance and Training.—For the ultimate residuum of men in distress from want of employment the minority recommend that maintenance should be freely provided, without disfranchisement, on condition that they submit themselves to the physical and mental training that they may prove to require. Suitable day training depots or residential farm colonies should be established, where the men's whole working time would be absorbed in such varied beneficial training of body and mind as they proved capable of; their wives and families being, meanwhile, provided with adequate home aliment.

Authorities.—The Report and Evidence of the Royal Commission of 1905–1909 is a library in itself on the subject of pauperism. The contents of the various volumes are given supra. Other important publications are Report and Evidence of Royal Commission on Aged Poor (1895); Report and Evidence of Select Committee of House of Commons on Distress from Want of Employment (1895); Report of Departmental Committee on Vagrancy (1906). See also the references in the bibliography to Charity and Charities; and Sir G. Nicholls and T. Mackay, A History of the English Poor Law (3 vols., 1899); the publications of the Charity Organization Society; Reports of Poor Law Conferences. For list of subjects discussed, see index to Report of Central Conferences.

  1. After an intermediate transfer in 1847 of the powers of the poor law commissioners, and the constitution of a fresh board styled “ commissioners for administering the laws for relief of the poor in England, ” it was found expedient to concentrate in one department of the government the supervision of the laws relating to the public health, the relief of the poor and local government; and this concentration was in 1871 carried out by the establishment (by Act of Parliament 34 & 35 Vict.c. 70) of the local government board.
  2. The appendix volumes to the Report of the Royal Commission number thirty-four. Their contents are as follows- vol. i. English Official Evidence, minutes of evidence mainly of the officers of the Local Government Board for England and Wales; vol. ii. London Evidence, minutes of evidence mainly of London witnesses; vol. iii. Associations and Critics, minutes of evidence mainly of critics of the Poor Law and of witnesses representing Poor Law and Charitable Associations; vol. iv Urban Centres, minutes of evidence containing the oral and written evidence of the British Medical Association and of witnesses from the following provincial urban centres-Liverpool and Manchester districts, West Yorkshire, Midland Towns; vol. v. Minutes of Evidence containing the -oral and written evidence of witnesses from urban centres in the following districts-South Wales and North Eastern Counties; vol. vi. Minutes of Evidence relating to Scotland; vol. vii. Minutes of Evidence containing the oral and written evidence of witnesses from various rural centres in the South Western, Western and Eastern Counties, from the parish of Poplar Borough and from the National Conference of Friendly Societies; vol. viii. Minutes of Evidence containing the oral and written evidence of witnesses relating chiefly to the subject of “unemployment”; vol. ix. Evidence of further witnesses on the subject of unemployment; vol. x. Minutes of Evidence relating to Ireland; vol. xi. Miscellaneous Papers. Communications from Boards of Guardians and others, &c., vol. xii. Reports, Memoranda and Tables prepared by certain of the Commissioners; vol. xiii. Diocesan Reports on the Methods of administering charitable assistance and .the extent and intensity of poverty in England and Wales; vol. xiv. Report on the Methods and Results of the present system of administering indoor and outdoor poor law medical relief in certain unions in England and Wales, by Dr J. C. McVail; vol. xv. Report on the Administrative Relation of Charity and the Poor Law, and the extent and the actual and potential utility of Endowed and Voluntary Charities in England and Scotland, by A. C. Kay and H. V. Toynbee; vol. xvi. Reports on the Relation of Industrial and Sanitary Conditions to Pauperism, by Steel Maitland and Miss R. E. Squire; vol. xvii. Reports on the effect of Outdoor Relief on Wages and the Conditions of Employment, by Thomas Jones and Miss Williams; vol. xviii. Report on the Condition of the Children who are in receipt of the various forms of Poor Law Relief in certain Unions in London and in the Provinces, by Dr Ethel Williams and Miss Longman and Miss Phillips; vol. xix. Reports on the Effects of Employment or Assistance given to the Unemployed since 1886 as a means of relieving distress outside the Poor Law in London, and generally throughout England and Wales, and in Scotland and Ireland, by Cyril Jackson and Rev. J. C. Pringle; vol. xx Report on Boy Labour in London and certain other typical towns, by Cyril Jackson, with a Memorandum from the General Post Office on the Conditions of Employment of Telegraph Messengers; vol. xxi. Reports on the Effect of the Refusal of Out-Relief on the Applicants for such Relief, by Miss G. Harlock; vol. xxii. Report on the Overlap ing of the work of the Voluntary General Hospitals with that of Poor Law Medical Relief in certain districts of London, by Miss M. B. Roberts; vol. xxiii. Report on the Condition of the Children who are in receipt of the various forms of Poor Law Relief in certain parishes in Scotland, by Dr C. T. Parsons and Miss Longman and Miss Phillips; vol. xxiv. Report on a Comparison of the Physical Condition of “ Ordinary ” Paupers in certain Scottish Poorhouses with that of the Able-bodied Paupers in certain English Workhouses and Labour Yards, by Dr C. T. Parsons; vol. xxv. Statistical Memoranda and Tables relating to England and Wales, prepared by the Staff of the Commission and by Government Departments and others, and Actuarial Reports; vol. xxvi. Documents relating more especially to the administration of charities; vol. xxvii. Replies by Distress Committees in England and Wales to Questions circulated on the subject of the Unemployed Workmen Act 1905; vol. xxviii. Reports of Visits to Poor Law and Charitable Institutions and to Meetings of Local Authorities in the United Kingdom; vol. xxix. Report on the Methods of Administering Charitable Assistance and the extent and intensity of Poverty in Scotland, prepared by the Committee on Church Interests appointed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; vol. xxx. Documents relating especially to Scotland; vol. xxxi. Statistical Memoranda and Tables relating to Ireland, &c.; vol. xxxii. Report on Visits paid by the Foreign Labour Colonies Committee of the Commission to certain Institutions in Holland, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland; vol. xxxiii. Foreign and Colonial Systems of Poor Relief, with a memorandum on the Relief of Famines in India; vol. xxxiv. Alphabetical Lists of Oral and Non-oral Witnesses.