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Poor Law Authority in United Kingdom

Poor Law Authority and the Majority Report of the Royal Commission of 1905-1909

In this issue about poor law authority, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have described how the Majority Report of the Royal Commission professedly accepts the “Principles of 1907,” but attempts to graft them upon a new Destitution Authority, and then inevitably finds itself compelled-seeing that these principles are incompatible with the very nature of a Destitution Authority-to revert, in reality, to the “Principles of 1834.” The Minority Report on the other hand, carries the “Principles of 1907” to their logical conclusion; and at the same time discovers to us the unifying principle on which they have been unconsciously based, and by which alone their possible costliness can be limited and justified. Thus the Minority Report finds, at the stage to which English Local Government has now attained, absolutely no need for a Poor Law Authority, or for any policy of “relieving” destitution on any principles whatsoever. It finds the other Public Authorities already dealing, on the Principles of Curative Treatment, Compulsion, and Universal Provision, and as a part of their normal functions in connection with the population at large, with all the different sections of the pauper host; the Local Education Authority providing for many destitute children of school age; the Local Health Authority for many destitute infants, and sick and infirm persons; the Local Lunacy Authority for actually a majority of the destitute mentally defective; the Local Pension Authority for hundreds of thousands of destitute aged; and the Local Unemployment Authority, now to be reinforced by a National Unemployment Authority, for innumerable destitute able-bodied. Thus, as already stated, there are to-day actually more destitute persons being maintained at the public expense outside the Poor Law than inside its scope. What seems clearly inevitable is the continuation of this evolution, and the transfer to these several Public Authorities of the remainder of each section of the destitute for whom the Board of Guardians is still providing. Those children of school age who are still being looked after by the Poor Law Authority will be increasingly entrusted to the Local Education Authority; those sick persons who are still included among the paupers will more and more be merged in those already under treatment by the Local Health Authority; those mentally defective and feeble-minded who still cumber the workhouses will presently be handed over to the Lunacy Authorities; the remnant of the healthy aged who are still classed as paupers will inevitably be dealt with among the much larger number already under the care of the Local Pension Committee; whilst those able-bodied persons who are being relieved as vagrants or paupers, together with the “Unemployed” now on the registers of the Distress Committees, will come under the supervision and control of the new National Authority for the able-bodied, of which the beginning is seen in the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909. This, we suggest, is plainly the lesson of the day.

The gist of the Minority Report so far, at any rate, as the non-able-bodied are concerned may be put even more shortly. The Poor Law and the Poor Law Authorities-necessary at an earlier stage of Local Government, when destitution would otherwise have gone undealt with-can now simply be merged in the ordinary functions of municipal and county administration. Only in this way can we put an end to the costly and extravagant overlapping that now exists between the Poor Law Authority, on the one hand, and all the other Authorities on the other.

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Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

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  • Article Name: Poor Law Authority
  • Author: David Gordon
  • Description: Poor Law Authority and the Majority Report of the Royal Commission of 1905-1909 In this issue about poor law authority, the [...]

This entry was last updated: April 17, 2017

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