The Gilbert Act (1782), while creating the Poor-Law Union and introducing some other im provements in the system of administration, directly violated the principle of the workhouse test by making it possible to give outdoor money aid. Another step in the same direction was taken in 1795, when the policy was introduced of supplementing the ordinary wage of the laborer with money aid, the amount of which was increased in proportion to the number of members in the family. The evil wrought by these meas ures was great. It destroyed the sense of per sonal responsibility and the incentive of initia tive. The larger portion of the agricultural laborers became pauperized, relief was expected, and disgrace no longer attached to it. It led to a reckless contraction of marriages and an ab normal birth-rate in pauper families. It was es timated that in 1302-03 23 per cent, of the population in England and Wales was in receipt of either permanent or occasional aid. It made it possible for wages to be cut, and the self-de pendent man was often refused employment; in fact, his lot became worse than that of the pauper.
Great recklessness in expenditure was common, the poor rates became enormous, and although most classes of the population had cooperated in carrying the policy to an extreme under the pre sumption that it served their personal interests, the abnormal status of society was too patent to escape exposure long. Parliament appointed a commission to investigate the whole question of the poor relief. As a result of the report of this commission in 1834, measures were taken by Parliament which mark the beginning of a new epoch in the poor-law administration.
The cure of the evils existing prior to this re port was a matter mainly of securing an efficient uniform administration. This hinged largely on having a central body with the power to enforce the laws. There resulted the establishment of a commission, which was made a permanent depart ment of the Government in 1867, and in 1871 be came known as the Local Government Board. The board consists of a president appointed by the King and a number of ex-officio members. The president is assisted by two secretaries. The board has power not only to enforce laws, but, on its own initiative, can issue orders and regulations, which may be either general or particular in their application. The board is thus enabled to adapt the system to the varying conditions of dif ferent localities, and to the changing conditions in a given place. It can also establish unions and determine the district boundaries between them; and it exercises both an administrative and a financial control over the guardians, and hears and decides complaints brought against them. In order that the board might be properly informed and the charity system properly carried out, assistant commissioners were appointed, who were superseded in 1847 by inspectors. Unreasonable
expenditure is carefully guarded against by the creation of auditors, who examine every item of expense and determine whether or not it is in accordance with the law. If they consider it excessive they can disallow it. The function of the overseers (appointed in each parish by the justices) has been greatly reduced from what it was formerly, their relief work (except in cases of sudden and urgent need) being assumed by the guardians and their powers of removal having also been turned over to that body. Practically the only duty left to the overseers is the securing of funds by the poor rate. The guardians have in turn become the most important local officers participating in poor relief.
The unit of administration of the board of guardians is the Poor-Law Union—a combination of parishes. Each parish selects one or more guardians, and these may choose two additional members. In the rural districts the poor law is administered by the district councilors. The board passes upon applications for relief and sees that its decisions are enforced; it has supervision of pauper establishments and the appointment of paid officers subject to the veto of the central board. The most important of the appointed officers are the relieving officer, who investigates and deals immediately with the case at hand, the clerk, who is the secretary of the board, and the assistant overseers and collectors. While the poor rate is levied upon the parish, the cost of relief is defrayed from the common fund of the union. Provision is made for the combination of unions into larger districts for special pur poses, as in the case of the maintenance of pauper institutions. With respect to these institutions the ccst is divided between the unions and the larger districts.
Since 1830 the policy pursued has been to limit relief as much as practicable to indoor methods. Asylums, infirmaries, and hospitals are provided for the classes needing such treatment as these institutions afford; schools and training ships for children, and workhouses for the able-bodied. But, in practice, exceptions are made to the rule, and outdoor relief is sometimes given even to the able-bodied, more especially in periods of un usual distress, at which times some sort of public work is likely to be undertaken in order to give the destitute employment. Many paupers have been sent out of the country, but the authorities no longer permit the poor rate to be drawn upon in order to transport paupers to the United States. The majority of pauper lunatics are cared for at the county or borough asylum, but some are kept at the workhouses, and some placed in licensed houses or registered hospitals. In the care of children considerable progress is being made in the operation of the placing-out system.