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The Evening Star FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1889., Issue 7951, 5 July 1889
The Evening Star FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1889.
Charitable aid is one of the most difficult subjects a GovernCliarilablv ment as to Aid Worm. England, the richest country in the world, perpetuates pauperism by what is essentially a Socialistic poor-law. Here in New Zealand—a young country with a fertile soil, abundant resources, and an incomparable climate—where the term “pauper” should have no practical application, we seem to be drifting towards the solution of the problem of poverty which forms such a blot on the civilisation of the Mother Country. Until about four years ago the poor of New Zealand were relieved or sup ported by voluntary contributions and grants from the Consolidated Fund. For a while this method answered the purpose fairly well, but latterly the Benevolent Institution Committees found it impossible to cope with the increasingdestitutioncaused by dull times and a reckless system of immigration. The country districts as a rule did not subscribe liberally, and even in the towns, which had to bear the principal part of the burden, the contributions came from a comparatively small number. Some districts, moreover, drew more than others, in proportion to requirements, from the Government. Canterbury, for instance, contributed very little, and Otago a great deal. There was thus great inequality of contributions both among the several districts and among the inhabitants of each particular district; and year by year the State-aided voluntary system of relief became less sufficient for the purpose, until it may be said to have broken down. Complaint and dissatisfaction were at least rife all over the country when the Stout-Vogel Government, in 1885, introduced their Hospitals and Charitable Aid Bill. This measure, which passed into law after a good deal of tinkering, established a somewhat cumbrous and complicated system of relief. It has, however, worked better than was expected, the chief objection to it being that it is to all intents and purposes a poor law. That it tends directly to dry up the springs of private charity is only too evident, the inability to establish here a Hospital Sunday being one of many proofs. In the following year (1886) an Amendment Act was passed to check this tendency, among other things; but we arc not aware if it had much or any effect in that direction. Still, as the method invented by the Stout-Vogel Government has worked fairly well, being on the whole conducive to an economical and efficient administration of charitable aid, and as something of the kind had apparently become indispensable, it was, perhaps, hardly worth while introducing a Bill to abolish it. The Hospitals and Charitable Aid Bill now before Parliament is an entirely new measure. It does not amend, but repeals, the existing Acts ; and it is questionable if the method which it proposes is better than that which it would displace. The Charitable Aid Boards, with their respective districts and Hospital Trusts, are ! abolished; forty-two new districts are created, each district being a hospital district and a charitable aid district, “ separately, not jointly,” for the purposes of the Act; in each district the separate local authority is a controlling council, such council not being a newly-constituted body, but simply an existing borough council, city council, or county council, as the case may be. The controlling
council, for example, of the Dunedin district, which includes the Waihemo, Waikouaiti, Peninsula, Taieri, Bruce, and Clutha Counties, with the boroughs therein, is the Dunedin City Council. The Dunstan district, on the other hand, is administered by Vincent County Council; and so on. These controlling councils have charge both of hospitals and charitable aid, only they may in certain cases by special order vest the control of hospitals or homes (a new institution) in not less than six nor more than twelve Trustees, to be elected by the contributors to such hospitals or homes. This is practically one of the provisions of the present Act. The hospital fund consists of rents and profits of endowments and reserves, voluntary contributions, contributions from the Consolidated Fund and local authorities, and all other moneys that may be received for or on behalf of any hospital in the district. The Government grant is 2s fid per day for the first 3,000 of “ the aggregate number of days of the “ actual treatment and stay of all the “ patients admitted to or being within “such hospital during the financial “ year,” and 2s for each day beyond that number ; and the balance of the cost of maintenance, after this grant, the rents, and the voluntary contributions are exhausted, is to be made gbod by contributions levied on the several local authorities within the district. Of the Charitable Aid Fund the constituents are rents and profits of endowments and reserves, voluntary contributions, grants and contributions from local authorities, and all other moneys that may be received for or on behalf of any home or benevolent institution, etc. There is no mention of the Consolidated Fund, and this omission we take to be the distinctive feature of the Bill. The expenditure for charitable aid, except in certain comparatively unimportant cases, is thrown upon the voluntary and compulsory contributions of the district. Each district, in a word, is to maintain its own poor —a questionable proposal in the present condition of the Colony, unless the districts are so defined as to equalise the burden, as far as possible, in them all. Even then we do not see why the Consolidated Revenue should not pay part of the cost, as there is a considerable floating population who contribute nothing directly to the Charitable Aid Fund, and whom the controlling councils cannot reach. Besides outdoor relief, charitable aid, as administered by the Bill, includes “ local “ homes for aged, infirm, incurable, “ and sick persons suffering from “ chronic ailments,” and “ State re- “ fuges for drunkards, idlers, or tramps “ who, or whose families, are a bur- “ den or likely to become a burden on “ the local charities.” The former are practically the benevolent homes of the present Act, and the latter are a doubtful expedient. However well such refuges may sound in theory, it would be difficult to administer them without serious abuses. They would create a very offensive kind of pauperism, and the local charities or controlling councils would be constantly endeavoring to palm off their worst cases upon them. Better, surely, to trust to the general improvement of society, especially in a young country like this, for the elimination of the description of persons named in the Bill than to establish the very worst species of pauperism in State refuges or pauper farms. The controlling councils are also charged with the maintenance, or part maintenance, of industrial schools, their contribution being sixpence a day for each child. Orphans are placed upon the Consolidated Fund. There is no provision for separating merely “destitute and neglected ” from “ criminal ” children.
The Bill, on the whole, would seem to be unnecessary. The main alterations proposed in the administration of our hospitals and charitable aid, supposing these to he desirable, could easily have been engrafted on the existing system. It is, besides, extremely questionable if the controlling councils would be as efficient as the Charitable Aid Boards. City councils have enough to do as it is, without entailing upon them the difficult and tedious business of dispensing public charity; and some of the smaller municipal bodies would probably be unfit for such an important charge. The members of municipal bodies would, under the Bill, enjoy an amount of patronage that we feel satisfied would not be conducive to the general good. And the cost to the citizens of dispensing charitable aid would be greatly increased if outdoor relief is to be continued on anything like the scale it has been carried out in the past; whilst to materially reduce it brings its dispensers face to face with this problem : Are our poor to be allowed to starve 1 We are glad to see that the City Council intend to deal exhaustively with the financial aspect of the Bill, and shall reserve comment on that head till their report is brought up. In our opinion the less legislation with the subject of charitable aid the better; and all such legislation should be with a view to “tapering off.” There ought to be no necessity for a poor law, or anything like a poor law, in New Zealand. Unfortunately, if our hospitals and charitable institutions were relegated to voluntary support, supplemented by a fixed contribution from the State, many well able to give would refuse, and the whole burden rest upon the comparatively few generous and willing contributors.
The Evening Star FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1889., Issue 7951, 5 July 1889
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