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 or “Institutional” Relief.—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 or “Home 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.