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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter II. — Charitable Aid: How Administered

Chapter II.

Charitable Aid: How Administered.

During the months of April, May, June, July, August, and September of 1887, 3,427 children and 2,134 adults were relieved, giving a total of 3,847 adults. They bad £1,266 15s. 6d. distributed between them during those six months, which, if equally divided, would amount to one shilling and a penny farthing per month each, not quite a halfpenny per day. Poor miserable creatures! I wonder if bey would be counted fit to eat of the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table! The Rev. Mr. Hill, who sat one day with the Charitable Aid Board, remarked, "An applicant comes one Thursday before a strict committee and is dismissed, it maybe, with one ration, or none at all, and a lecture; next week he or she comes before two or three easy-going committeemen, and gets the rations doubled, and slips through without further trouble."

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Then, the overlapping of charities promotes imposition, and render detection less easy. Recently, to avoid this state of things, the Board communicated with the Benevolent Society, asking for a list of persons relieved, as a check, but simply got an acknowledgment of the letter. Yet that society only last week got £100 from the Board as part of its subsidy. The necessity for a change in the relations existing between the two bodies will be obvious when it is stated that a case came up last week at the meeting of the Boari where the Board had been giving two rations, also a meat ration supplies of firewood and coals, and finding the recipient a house rent-free, while the Benevolent Society had been giving the same party 6s. a week for rent and 4s. a week for groceries, neither organization being aware of what relief the other was giving. New wonder this recipient had been on the books about five years. In another case a fine stalwart-looking navvy "could get no work"—wanted rations. The inspecting officer, Mr. Strahern, observed. "Why do you spend your time in the Police Court, instead of looking for work?" "Oh, Mr. Strahern, how can you say so!" replied the applicant, "Gentlemen of the Board, I'll tell you the [unclear: God] truth; I've only been at the Court three times this week, and this is Thursday." This applicant gets a week's rations, and is found employment. Now comes a very distressing case: a family residing in Albert Street, in a wretched shanty in a back yard. The husband is away on the East Coast working in a prospecting party, and sends his wife the little he can save. The wife is almost deformed by rheumatic fever, succeeding typhoid, and the joints of her hands are so distorted that she cannot even sew, and has to be helped in and our of bed. There are four little children on her hands. Her brother in-law, living in the house, had been ill for four years through an accident met with in gold-mining. For three years one set of relations had kept him, and for the last year he had been with his sister-in-law. When the wife's pittance came from her husband the landlord got nearly the half for rent, although sorely needed for food for her children, but, as she told the reporter, she struggled on, though strongly tempted to ask for aid from the Board. Within the last month the brother-in-law has got a ration—a little rice, oatmeal, sugar, tea, and bread, but no meat, and nothing in the way of the medical comforts needful for a man in his condition; and his sister in-law was unable to give them to him, though, in addition to his original complaint, consumption was fast making inroads upon his frame. He managed to move about till Friday night, but on Saturday passed away. As the reporter looked upon the "bag of bones" stretched upon the little pallet, and the sickly-looking mother in that wretched hovel, the victim of insufficient nourishment, and called to remembrance the "sturdy beggars" be had seen on "full rations," he could not help thinking that there was something deplorably at fault in our system of official relief. No Church had inquired into her case, no official charity had been hers, because she had endeavoured uncomplainingly to maintain self-respect and womanhood.

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Now, I wish to call the reader's attention to one or two other cases. At Wellington, in the month of September, 1889, some extraordinary statements were made at a meeting of the Benevolent Trustees as to the manner in which persons are recommended for relief by local bodies. The Chairman said that three years ago the Mayor of a borough recommended a person as being a proper subject for relief. An allowance of 5s. per week for three months was made. The Mayor, who was a storekeeper, supplied goods for thirty-three weeks. Some demur was made about paying this, but the relief had been kept up for three years, the Mayor having received £37 for goods supplied. The Inspector visited this woman; her statement was that she never required relief, as she had plenty of work, but she was persuaded by the Mayor and others that she ought to have it. In the New Zealand Herald of the 31st December, 1891, appeared the following cases: A woman, sixty-two years of age, owner of a cottage, 4 acres of land, and six cows, with three daughters at service and a boy at home. Relief discontinued. A man and his wife, aged seventy-one and seventy-three, living upon 22 acres of freehold, free from mortgage, with £280 on deposit in the bank and one married son in business. Relief discontinued. A widow living in her own house, free from mortgage, with one daughter earning £100 a year as teacher, another at service. Allowance reduced to 5s. a week. A widow of thirty-six years, living on her freehold; two boys earning £1 a week, herself earning 10s. a week. Allowance reduced from £1 to 5s. a week. These few illustrations will be sufficient, I think, to convince the reader of the poverty existing, and, if charity is to be distributed in doles, it requires some better method of doing it.

No one will deny that it is the duty of the State to provide for people who are incapable of earning their own maintenance. And that provision should consist of a home with all reasonable comforts, not luxuries. No one ought to feel that he is a pauper depending upon the miserable pittance doled out to him taken from his brothers' labour. Those who are able to work but unable to obtain it would be depending upon Government for employment, but would be quite independent as to the remuneration they received, because in no case would they receive the full equivalent of their labour, but each would be paid according to his abilities and willingness to work.

The fact that two old men were recently sent to gaol at Auckland for the crime of being poor has been widely circulated through the English Press, and much commented upon. If I had known of any reasonable explanation of the apparently disgraceful case I should have sent it to the Pall Mall, which had a nasty paragraph on the subject the other day. "Surely," it wound up, "Auckland is a thriving place, and rich enough to provide accommodation for the destitute, without making criminals of them."