by John J. Draper
The general aim of the Local Government Act, 1929, is to break up local government and to substitute therefor a system of large Group administratoin after the ideas of Mr. Sydney Webb. It is anticipated that there would be, say a dozen such large areas of administration in England, and each would in effect be a little Parliament of its own, with paid representatives. By splitting up the areas of administration into Provincial Departments it is hoped to make the Socialistic Servile State work. Had the small local units been kept, they would have tended to perserve the individual characteristics of each neighbourhood. whilst uniformity is what is desired. Hence the absorption of Rural District Councils - into the County Councils, which in their turn will be amalgamated into the Provincial Departments. Only County Boroughs are left afloat as "Noah's Ark" in the rising Flood. It will be rather fun to see whether they survive!
The scattered Institutions of rural areas are, it is understood, to be replaced by enourmous compounds in each of the twelve regional areas of England. These will be apportioned respectively in the Aged, to the chronically Infirm, to Orphans, to the Mentally Defective, and to the other portions of the community considered suitable for Institutions. Cornwall, Devonshire, Somersetshire and Gloucestershire would combine, say, to form one enormous Institutional Colony for their Aged, quite irrespective of the distance these poor people would be placed from their own district and friends. In the same way a huge Barrack Compound would be erected for the Weak-minded in the Area under a sort of Health Military Supervision.
As to the Unemployed, drastic measures are being taken to bring them under a centralised system of control. A large number of the Industrialised Unemployed have come South in search of work; having failed to find it, they have taken to the road, and after a few months of this existence prefer its misery, hardships and comparative freedom, to work and comfort under servile conditions. These men are considered as "potential rebels" to Industrialism, and proposals are being made to "round them up." It is suggested that all tramps, on pain of arrest, are to keep to certain specified main roads. Casual Wards in future are to be placed not less than 40 or 60 miles apart (beyond a day's march), and tramps must possess tickets of identification before they will be admitted to Casual Wards. Inbetween the Casual Wards are to be placed Detention Compounds where the Unemployed Wanderer will be forced to work, or starve. (The work may possibly be connected with some Agricultural Scheme such as the Fielding Scheme.) In any case the homeless Unemployed man will find himself " 'Twist the Devil and the Deep Sea," for if he choose to sleep out, or beg for money, he can be committed to gaol under the Poor Laws, and, therefore, he will have no alternative but to accept the condition of compulsory labour.
There remain the poor who receive unemployment benefit or Poor Law relief in their own homes. By Order of the Ministry of Health (Circular 1,083) in future Poor Law Officials are obliged to send reports of the cases, with which they deal, to the Labour Exchanges. As minute investigations are made by the Relieving Officers into the circumstances of the home and personal character of the recipients of relief, it is not difficult to foresee the abuses which will follow this procedure.
Presumably, if Mrs. Smith is going to have a baby, or Mr. Smith has been seen visiting the "Pub," this information will be duly handed in on a Blue Form to the Local Labour Exchange. As a result, Mr. Smith will be docketed as "not genuinely seeking work" or as "seeking work with unnecessary encumbrances!" All is working up very nicely to that fine day when families will be declared superfluous! This, indeed, is the End of the Road.
In the beginning of Christian Society things were very different. Goods were held in common: there were no Labour Exchanges. St. Stephen and six other men were elected by the Church at Jerusalem to organise the apportionment of necessities amongst the Christians. Since the 1st Century the relief of the destitute has been an integral part of the work of the Church and of the Christian civilisation of Europe. In this country the monastaries held about one quarter of the land, and until they were dissolved by Henry VIII, they held hte balance of Society by providing for the needs of the sick, the poor, the aged and the infirm. This, indeed, is the origin of "Parish Relief"; the Parochial organisers of the Relief of the poor under the Catholic Church were replaced under the new Church Establishment by Overseers of the Poor; it is these Overseers who became at the abolition of the Vestries, Guardians of the Poor. The Guardians could, therefore, trace an almost direct descent to St. Stephen and his companions.
In other European countries where the work of the Church has been replaced or supplemented by public enterprise, it has not been the custom to elect special representatives, for the Communies have undertaken the task of assisting the poor, when necessary. Thus England has remained isolated in her system of electing a special body of men to minister to the needs of the poor - a relic of the ancient constitution of the Catholic Church. There can be no objection to the administration of poor relief by Communes since these are local bodies of elected representatives, and have definite duties to perform. But the whole aim of the new measure in England is to prevent local bodies from assisting the poor; in future, the poor will be divorced from their local protectors.
For the re-fashioning of the Poor Laws conceived in the harsh spirit of first, the Elizabthan and, second, the Manchester Period, there can be made out an excellent case. For the replacement of the Guardians by local Councillors, especially of the smaller units, there is a good argument on the score of unification. But it is precisely these things which have been omitted. The Government has done those things "which it ought not to have done and left undone those things which it ought to have done." The Poor Laws remain - and the smaller local units for Poor Law Relief have been abolished.
Finally, this vaunted measure of reform, the Local Government Act (1929) will have achieved one thing which its name belies, it will have achieved the destruction of local government, the glorification of bureaucracy, and the chaining up of the English People as prisoners of the Servile State.