« VorigeDoorgaan »
quality. Pressure of this kind has been put on the Council in two forms, but has so far been resisted. One proposal has been to give more than one meal a day; to provide breakfasts as well as dinners, and even to give lunches as well. This the Council has refused, leaving it to the Care Committee to decide whether the most useful meal is breakfast or dinner, but, whichever they choose, only the one meal is to be provided, though in cases of special delicaey it is allowed to give a glass of milk with some bread or biscuits at the recreation interval. The other proposal was to carry on the meals in the holidays or at other times when the schools are closed. But the Act only allows the provision of meals to children'in attendance ? at school, and on referring the interpretation of this phrase to Counsel, the reply has been given that a child is only 'in attendance on those days when he is actually at school, not on Saturdays or Sundays when the school is closed, or during the holidays, or when the child is excluded for infectious disease. Two dangerous leaks in expenditure have thus been stopped.
But the whole atmosphere is full of danger to the finances, and the County Council will be fortunate if it can maintain for long its present scale of expenditure, a scale high indeed as compared with the past, though moderate as compared with the demands which will be made by extremists imbued with Socialist notions. London is now placed as regards the feeding of children in the same position as that occupied by Paris with regard to the Cantines Scolaires, and it will require steady guidance if it is to avoid running through the same course. I wrote an account of the history and working of the Cantines Scolaires in the issue of this Review for May 1906. It was shown there how rapidly the number of children receiving free meals had grown and how voluntary subscriptions had fallen off while publie subventions increased, till at last the Paris Municipality put down its foot and resolved it would not pay more than 40,0001. a year for this purpose. They were enabled to do this by declaring that the object of the dinners was not to relieve necessitous children but to improve the attendance by keeping the children on the school premises between the two sessions. But no Educational Authority in England has adopted this flimsy pretext. Our dinner system is frankly based on the hunger of the children, and their inability through lack of food to profit by education; and no authority would venture to fix an arbitrary limit as to the amount of money it would devote to this object. It appears from the statistics published that the number of children who received free meals in Paris was about 9000 twenty years ago, and it rose rapidly, till the closure was enforced by the limitation of funds, to 30,000 or 35,000, or about 20 per cent. of the school population. The number of free meals given is now about seven millions a year. In London the average number fed in the previous three years before the Meals Act was 27,000, but it had risen to nearly 54,000 in February of this year; and on the basis of these
figures the cost is estimated in the budget for the current year at 30,0001. If, however, the demand should grow, as it has grown in Paris, to 20 per cent. of the whole school population, or a maximum of 150,000 children, this figure would be more than trebled, and would exceed the half-penny rate which is all that the present Act admits of. Whether that bulwark would hold fast against the rising flood of Socialistic demand, or whether an amended Act would be insisted on, raising the maximum rate still higher, is open to doubt, but it is certain that, if our past experience may be trusted, that amount would far exceed the real necessities of the case. The only real bulwark against extravagant demands is careful inquiry into the home-conditions and the family income. If the investigations have been lax and superficial in Paris they have been equally so in London. The official reports of the Caisses des Ecoles as to the imperfection of the inquiries, and how they are often left to the head teachers only, or not made at all, might be embodied word for word in the reports of many of our Care Committees. The one hope of keeping the supply of free meals to its proper function, and preventing its becoming a demoralising subsidy for unthrifty parents, lies in the effectual carrying out of the Council's scheme for creating bonâ-fide Care Committees whose decisions will be based, not on a hypothetical view of the conditions which ought to constitute necessity, but on a practical standard by which to judge whether a child is actually necessitous or not.
It is not enough, however, to get together a Care Committee composed of benevolent persons, however good the will may be. They must be instructed in details of procedure, some of which seem so simple that it is hard to believe that they would not occur naturally to everybody-as for instance that if a child in one department is adjudged to be necessitous, his brothers and sisters in other depart
ments should be treated similarly. The same thing applies when in the children of one family are in different schools ; there should be the intercommunication between the Committees of every school, a i sort of general clearing-house for necessitous cases. Efforts should be
made to verify the statements as to income by reference to employers. The visiting done over the same area from the Children's Care Committee, the Country Holiday Fund, the Invalid Children's Aid Society, the Parish District visitor, should be combined as far as possible in one hand, or else the mothers are unduly worried by investigations.
A scheme has lately been sanctioned by the County Council for reconstructing the Care Committees, enlarging their numbers by the addition of other workers employed in kindred purposes, broadening their sphere of work to include all the physical wants of the children, not merely the provision of meals, and grouping them together in Local Associations to secure some measure of uniformity. It would be out of place here to enter on any technical discussion of the details ; and the worst that criticism could say would probably be that the scheme aims at too high an ideal, and that such workers as can be enlisted, in this
imperfect world, will rarely attain the desired standard. The worst result of this will be that enthusiasts, impatient at seeing their standard not reached, will clamour for the substitution of paid officials, instead of voluntary workers, on the Care Committees.
As has been well said in a paper in the March Toynbee Record,' the question of school feeding lies in no watertight compartment; it is bound up with questions of unemployment and charity, with thrift and pauperisation and medical care.' And the same writer gives a timely warning as to the danger of unwise Care Committees doing harm instead of good. 'A visitor from a Care Committee is moved by the occasional sight of a clean home and healthy children kept on a marvellously low wage to wonder whether his efforts under the present system, with its lack of organisation and its lack of discrimination, are not tending in the long run to put a premium on mismanagement.' Miss Frere in her management of the Tower Street School has shown how much a judicious Care Committee can do not only to plaster over the sore of children's hunger, but to revive the health of the family organism and raise it to a higher and self-supporting level. But efforts like these have been spasmodic and isolated. The uncertainty of obtaining sufficient funds has hitherto been one great obstacle to any attempt to administer a sound system on a large scale. The removal of this is the one real good which recourse to the rates has brought with it; the system of school feeding is now definitely established on a firm financial basis, and it is the duty of the Educational Authority so to regulate it by judicious and efficient visiting that it may be an incitement to thrift and good management, and not to pauperisation.
C. A. ELLIOTT. P.S.-Since this article was written, Mr. Dunn's ‘Education (Administrative Provisions) Bill,' proposing to lay the onus of the selection of necessitous children, without any enquiry into hone circumstances, on the medical officer, was presented to and rejected by the House of Commons. Its object was to extend the system of State feeding as widely as possible, but the procedure advocated showed complete ignorance of the conditions of the case. riddled through and through by arguments proving the impossibility of transferring this responsibility into the hands of an official of the Local Authority, and Sir William Collins dwelt forcibly on the inability of inspection alone to diagnose the cases correctly, and on the distinction between medical inspection, a duty which the State has undertaken, and medical treatment of the children in school, the scope and limitation of which are a very delicate and still undecided question. Apart from which it may be added that the result of such a procedure would probably have been the reverse of what the promoters of the Bill desired, for inspection by an experienced medical officer would certainly lead to the exclusion of a large proportion of the children who are now being fed at the expense of the State. C. A. E
It was 1909
POOR RELIEF IN THE DAYS TO COME
WHEN, three years ago last December, the Poor Law Royal Commission was appointed, some of us heaved sighs. What we should have liked was a Commission of half a dozen members, and here was one of eighteen. There would have been a chance that six Commissioners might see things eye to eye and agree as to what must be done ; whereas with three times six it was a foregone conclusion that diverse reports would be issued, and rival schemes would be propounded. The marvel is that there should be only two reports, not more, and only two schemes. There would have been more, no doubt, had not the Commissioners as a whole recognised clearly, and thereby given proof of rare patriotism as well as of common sense, that the case was a case for giving and taking and making concessions all round. Probably not one of the fourteen of them who signed the Majority Report is quite content with it as it stands ; probably no one of them but is sure in his-or her-heart that he could in some respect or other have bettered it, had be bad a free hand. And bettered no doubt it might have been ; for it is, as it was bound to be, a compromise. None the less it is assuredly a right notable report, one for which much gratitude is due to those wbo framed it. And the same may be said of that framed by the Minority. The one, as the other, is in its way an excellent report, although neither can claim to be perfect; and on the one as on the other, or better still on the two combined, there might certainly be founded a poor-relief system which, if not perfect, would at any rate be infinitely better than our present poorrelief system, alike from the standpoint of the ratepayer and of the poor.
With regard to our present system there is no difference of opinion whatever among the Commissioners, it is satisfactory to note. There hardly could be, indeed, with the evidence they had before them.
They all unite in singing over it a solemn Tekel; they all agree in condemning it root and branch, in condemning, too, the very principles upon which it is founded. Our long-cherished dogma that the destitute are all on a par, and that the most worthless among them must, therefore, be dealt with in precisely the same fashion as the most worthy, does not appeal to any one of them, if we may judge by their reports ; nor does the dogma that men and women who are drifting into pauperism must just be left to drift. No section of the Royal Commission even suggests that local Poor Law administrators should be left among us free, as they are, to squander the ratepayers' money whenever the fancy seizes them; free too to pamper the poor or to starve them-to spend a pound a week on every little waif they maintain, or to leave a mother to support a child on a shilling. No section shows
desire to save for us our chief Poor Law institution, the workhouse. A clean sweep must be made of Boards of Guardiansthe Majority Report insists just as strongly as the Minority; a clean sweep, too, of omnium gatherum workhouses. There must no longer be local administrators in the land playing at will either the spendthrift or the niggard; no longer institutions where decent old folk are forced to spend their days with wastrels, rogues and criminals ; where boys and girls and little children are shut up together with the riff-raff of the population ; and where loafing vagrants may sojourn as in hotels. These are points on which all the Commissioners are at one; and therein lies cause for rejoicing, or so at least it, of course, seems to me ; for the abolition of Boards of Guardians and of workhouses are reforms for which I have been clamouring, in this Review, for the last ten years.
Then not only do all the Commissioners agree in pronouncing our present relief system a failure, but they also agree as to what must be aimed at in framing a new system in order to insure its being a success. They are unanimous in declaring that a fundamental change must be made not only in our methods of dealing with the poor, but also-what is even more important–in the spirit in which we deal with them. We must no longer rest content with relieving the
. destitute, they tell us ; we must try to prevent the poor from becoming destitute, and the destitute from becoming pauperised ; nay, more, we must try to depauperise the pauperised. And that we may do this we must begin by throwing aside our old pernicious notion that all paupers are equal, and cease from treating them as if they were.
Under our present system, men and women become paupers by the hundred, simply because there is no one to give them a helping hand, if in temporary distress. No Poor Law official may do anything for them until they are already homeless and penniless ; and even then all that he may do, as a rule, is to send them to the workhouse, to pauperise them in fact. If the Commissioners have their way, however, it will be otherwise. Then there will be officials-honorary officials if the Majority scheme be adopted, paid officials if the Minority--whose recognised business it will be to act as the friends, and advisers, and helpers of the poor, especially of the poor hovering on the brink of pauperism, and to try to keep them from becoming paupers. Now, as things are, paupers of all degrees are clubbed together and treated alike; but as things will be when the Commis