Old Age Pensíons.
Old Age Pensions.
The Meaning of "Pension."
The earliest authoritative definition of pension that I can find is that of Dr Johnson, which appeared in all the four editions of his dictionary published during his life, notwithstanding his own acceptance of a pension in the meantime:—"Pension—an allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a State hireling for treason to his country." the whole point of the lexicographer's sarcasm is that in theory a pension was then what it is now, when our dictionaries define it as "a stated allowance to a person in consideration of past services." A pension, in its true sense, is a reward of merit; an old age pension, in its true sense, is the reward to be given to those attaining old age in consideration of their meritorious services to the State on their progress to that age. A part of those services may or may not be a specific contribution of money by the individual to a State pension fund; but whether or not this pecuniary element enters into the scheme, the pension is merely supposed to represent what he fairly earned. It is not a gratuity or a dole, but stands for "good consideration and value received"; it is the public recognition and remuneration in old age of the individual's previous contributions to the common weal.
Pension and Charity Distinguished.
On the other hand, charitable aid, or poor relief, has an altogether different basis. We relieve the destitute, of whatever age, and however unworthy, because they are destitute, and because our humanity forbids our leaving them to starve. The appeal is to our mercy here, as it was to our justice in the other case; need is the test in the one case, in the other merit; what is given is alms in the one case, in the other it is wages. In principle nothing could be clearer than the distinction between these two things, but unfortunately in practice nothing seems easier than to confuse them.
The Cause of the Confusion.
The confusion is readily explained by the origin of the popular feeling in favor of a pension scheme. At present the aged poor are relieved upon the same grounds and by the same methods as their juniors, and it is considered unjust that those who are incapacitated by old age alone should be put in the same category with those whose incapacity springs from idleness or vice. A scheme is accordingly demanded which will give the aged separate and better treatment, and the logical conclusion that if old age is to be the criterion all the aged must be put on the same footing is clearly seen. But equally clear is the difficulty of finding the money for a universal scheme, and the difficulty is so great that some are fain to accept a plan which will benefit the aged poor only, overlooking the fact that in so doing they have not merely made a theoretical sacrifice, but have abandoned the chief part of their practical object by reaffixing the stigma of pauperism which they were anxious to remove, and reconverting the veteran's wage into the pauper's dole. An old age pension scheme which makes poverty a necessary qualification for a pensioner is, if not a contradiction in terms, at any rate a gross misnomer; and, if desirable in other respects, should be enacted without any false pretence as a measure of charitable aid.
Canon Blackley's Scheme.
The agitation for old age pensions originated about twenty years ago in England, where some 50 per cent, of the adult paupers are over the age of sixty-five years; and, curiously enough, it originated from the opposite standpoint to that from which those who have carried it on have, for the most part, regarded it—the standpoint not of the pauper, but of the poor man who helps to pay for him. As the rector of a rural parish, Canon Blackley had known "young laborers by the dozen without a change of decent clothes, continually and brutally drinking, and living almost like savages, while earning full £1 a week"; and he even mentions one case of "a carter boy, aged fourteen years, spending 3s a week regularly on tobacco." He had instances like these constantly before him of men qualifying, by their youthful improvidence, to come upon the rates in their old age, and he realised that many a struggling, industrious ratepayer, primarily not leas poor than they, would ultimately be taxed for their support. Struck with the "monstrous injustice" of this arrangement, he propounded a very simple remedy—viz., a scheme of national insurance which would save the provident from the injustice of having to provide for the improvident by compelling the improvident to provide for themselves, and to make this provision at the time of life when money was of least use to them page 2 and most liable to be wasted. The proposal was that everybody between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one years should be compelled to pay £10 to a State fund, which would provide them in return with 8s a week sick pay till the age of seventy and 4s a week pension after that age. He subsequently proposed to abolish the sick pay and to reduce the age to sixty-five and the premium by one-half in the case of wage earners.
Sir Harry Atkinsons Bill.
Canon Blackley's scheme was elaborated and adopted to the circumstances of this colony by Sir Harry Atkinson in his National Provident Association Bill of 1884, which provided that every person should pay to a State provident fund 2s 3d a week from sixteen to twenty-three years, or 3s a week from eighteen to twenty-three; or he might commute for a capital sum ranging from £36 3s 9d at sixteen years to £44 11s at twenty-three. These payments would secure him 15s a week sick pay till the age of sixty-five, and a pension of 10s a week upon attaining that age. A valuable addition to Canon Blackley's scheme was the provision of substantial benefits for widows and orphans out of additional premiums of 2s a week between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight. Employers were to stop premiums due by any employé out of wages due to him, and to be liable for any contributions in arrear which they had failed to collect. The details of the scheme were very carefully worked out, and the Bill ran to 154 clauses.
Mr Chamberlain's Scheme.
If under the admirable arrangements provided by the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows only two members out of 673,073 have availed themselves of their superannuation scheme, is it reasonable to assume that a bribe of £15 (which would not be paid down to the member) would induce any considerable number of them to do so?
And the argument applies a fortiori to those not provident enough to join any friendly society, who are the main cause of the rouble.
Mr Booth's Scheme.
Mr Charles Booth is the author of the third of the great English schemes, which resembles the first in being universal and compulsory, but differs from both the preceding in not requiring any specific contributions from the individual and in not establishing any specific fund. It simply proposes that every person attaining the age of sixty-five shall be entitled to a pension of 5s a week out of general revenue, subject, however, to the one important condition that he has not during the preceding ten years been in receipt of poor relief. The minimum cost of these pensions for the United Kingdom would be £17,000,000 a year, and no special means are suggested for raising the money.
Old Age Insurance in Germany.
All the old age pension or national insurance schemes which have been propounded are modifications of one or other of these types, and it is hardly necessary to say that none of them has yet attained or approached to realisation in any English-speaking country. In Germany and Denmark, however, there are schemes in actual operation. The Old Age Insurance Law of Germany, which came into force on January 1, 1891, applies to wage-earners, clerks, apprentices, and other employés earning less than £100 a year, and compels each of them, after the age of sixteen years and during employment, to contribute a premium of from ¾d to 1½d a week, according to his wages, his employer being liable for collecting the amount and for supplementing it with a like sum. Ac the age of seventy the worker becomes entitled to an annual pension of from £5 6s 5d to £9 11s, according to his payments, and in the event of total disablement from work before that age he is also entitled to proportional benefits. The premiums are paid in stamps affixed to official cards, and the process has proved so cumbrous and irksome that the law is commonly spoken of as "the stamp-sticking nuisance." When the first pensions fall due there will be close on 3,000,000,000 of these stamped cards in the Government archives. Casual laborers and unemployed do not come under the law. The whole procedure is far too harassing to be ever tolerated in a free country. Its difficulties would have been enormously mitigated if Canon Blackley's principle of securing the premiums in early life had been adopted.
The Danish Pension System.
The Danish system is rather a poor law than a pension law, but as a poor law it seems to be a thoroughly sane and statesmanlike measure. It divides the poor requiring State aid after the age of sixty into the deserving and the undeserving; and it includes in the former class all "who are unable to maintain themselves, who have been in the country ten years, have never been convicted of crime, and can prove that they have not received poor law relief or been convicted of vagrancy or begging for ten years, and that their poverty is not the page 3 result of extravagance or evil living." On the applicant satisfying the local authority on all these points he is placed in the deserving class, and is awarded a pension of an amount which is left to their discretion. Sixteen guineas a year, or about 6s 6d a week, is said to be the largest amount awarded in Copenhagen. The undeserving are left to the workhouse. As I have said, this is really poor law and not pension law; but it is a poor law placed upon a sound and discriminating basis, and its essentials should be imitated in any scheme which, by making poverty a necessary qualification of its so-called pensioners, will merely amount to indiscriminate outdoor relief unless accompanied by adequate means for excluding the grossly unwortny.
The Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, 1893-95.
Such, then, in outline, are the chief schemes which have been proposed for dealing with the problem of the aged poor. Some further light has been recently shed upon the question by the investigations of parliamentary committees and royal commissions in England and elsewhere. The chief outcome of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor appointed in England in 1893 was a recommendation of something very like the Danish system. They urged in the case of the aged poor a greater discrimination between the "respectable poor" and those whose poverty is distinctly the result of their own misconduct, and that the wholesome and growing strictness in the granting of outdoor relief should be relaxed in favor of the former. Where it was found that applicants had borne a good character, had made reasonable efforts, and had not been previously assisted from the rates, except temporarily and under special circumstances of misfortune, then they recommended that outdoor relief should in all cases be tendered. Mr C. Booth and Mr Chamberlain were both members of this Commission, and it is interesting to find the former joining in the recommendation after telling us in his book on 'Pauperism and the Endowment of Old Age' that he could imagine no court of inquiry competent to conduct such an investigation. He would probably justify the apparent inconsistency by saying that though no tribunal was competent to do the work it was better under present conditions that it should be clumsily done than not at all. As a matter of fact, this discrimination has been very generally attempted by poor law authorities; and in the book just cited, which was published in 1892, Mr Booth refers to "the improved conditions of pauper life usually meted out to old age." It must not be overlooked, however, that one reason for the large proportion of the aged in our poorhouses is that they often require more care and attention than the most generous practicable allowance would enable them to procure outside. The manager of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum when asked what affect old age pensions of 10s a week would have on his institution said: "It would not relieve the institution much. A majority of the inmates could not be trusted with money, and a number require so much medical attention and nursing that they could not manage with the small pittance they would receive."
The Victorian Royal Commission, 1897-98.
The one practical suggestion in the report of the Royal Commission on Old Age Pensions presented to the Victorian Parliament a few months ago is of a similar character. The florid and pretentious style of this document is familiar enough to us in third-rate journalism, but looks somewhat odd in a Blue Book. It opens with the grandiose and nonsensical declaration that "the palliatives of political expediency must give way to the drastic panaceas of resolute statesmanship," but ends tamely enough with the suggestion of pensions (i.e., outdoor relief) for the deserving aged poor and the workhouse for the undeserving. "Undeserving," by the way, is not their word; they abandon the usual nomenclature, and among the poor, at any rate, recognise only the "deserving" and the "less deserving." Seeing that by their own definition the less deserving consist of "those who have been intemperate, extravagant, indolent, improvident, lawless, and generally those who have made no reasonable effort to provide for the future," it would seem that they have not discovered any obvious traces of higher merit in this class than have previous observers. But one result of universal suffrage appears to be a growing inability to impute positive demerit to any man who has a vote unless he happens to have some other marketable property besides. This strange compound of maudlin humanitarianism with calculating hypocrisy—this regard for our weaker but enfranchised brother, which is shared by the light-headed sentimentalist yearning to relieve his weakness, and the light-fingered demagogue yearning to capture his vote, is what threatens democracy with the gravest dangers in the sphere of social experiment.
The Movement in New Zealand.
In our own country there has lately been a general but vague feeling in favor of some system of old age pensions, but the popular demand has never taken any definite shape, nor has the problem been discussed with any accuracy either in or out of Parliament. In 1894 a Committee appointed by the House of Representatives arrived at certain resolutions which are unimpeachable as far as they go, but leave the crucial difficulties untouched. This Committee had no time for original investigation, and its most important suggestion was that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire thoroughly into the matter with reference to the circumstances of the colony. Parliament has ignored this recommendation, and is now for the third consecutive session attempting to deal with the matter at first hand. After months of deliberation the Committee appointed by the Imperial Government has just reported that page 4 hot one of the hundred schemes submitted to it is workable. After a few hours' discussion, without expert testimony before it, without special knowledge, without mature deliberation, and with a jaunty irresponsibility worthy of a juvenile debiting society, our House of Representatives decided last year that it had found a scheme that would do. That such an inquiry should solve such a question would indeed be a miracle, but even a miracle should be discussed on its merits, and this discussion I will now undertake.
The Old Age Pensions Bill, 1896.
The Old Age Pensions Bill introduced by the Premier in 1896, on the eve of a general election, was crude and impossible, and obviously not meant to pass; but it was not essentially vicious in its cardinal provision. It was not a mere charitable aid measure, and it did not make poverty and idleness the necessary equipment of a pensioner. An applicant who had lived sixty-five years, and spent twenty of them in the colony, was to be entitled to a pension of 10s a week, provided "that his total income from all sources (exclusive of personal earnings and his pension) does not exceed the rate of £50 per year," which meant that, though a man with property producing an annual income of £50 was disqualified, it was not necessary for a man to give up work in order to qualify. But the House would not tolerate even the property disqualification, and removed any suspicion of pauperism by striking out the whole subsection, and thus giving to every man who satisfies the conditions of age and residence the right to a pension. The measure then became a genuine pension scheme, but the enormous addition to its financial difficulties entailed by this extension was made an excuse for dropping a Bill which, even as introduced, had no financial foundation at all.
The Old Age Pensions Bill, 1897.
When the Bill was introduced again last year the subsection reappeared in its original form, but the House this time amended it in an opposite direction. The saving clause as to personal earnings was struck out, and everybody earning £1 a week or upwards was disqualified for a pension. The relief proposed by the Bill of 1896 was a modified charitable aid under not wholly pauperising conditions; the House then converted it into a genuine pension. The same relief was proposed by the Bill of 1897, and the House then converted it into a pauper's dole. I regret to see that this conversion is now accepted by the Government, and I propose to consider in detail the provisions of their measure in its latest form.
A Model Preamble.
Whereas it is equitable that colonists who during the prime of life may or may not have helped, etc., etc., and who from divers causes have been unable or unwilling, and continue to be unable or unwilling to provide for themselves.
Whereas it is equitable that deserving colonists who, etc., etc. (as in the Bill), and who from divers not discreditable causes have been unable to provide for themselves should look to the colony for a pension in their old age, and whereas it is inequitable that undeserving colonists who have not helped to bear the public burdens of the colony by the payment of taxes, nor to open up its resources by their labor and skill, and who from divers discreditable causes have been unable or unwilling and continue to be unable or unwilling to provide for themselves, should look to the colony for a pension in their old age.
Merit and Success
Merely to say that the Bill is a Charitable Aid Bill, and not an Old Age Pensions Bill, would not necessarily be to condemn it. As a Charitable Aid Bill it might still have its uses and its justification. Note that by leaving that important word "deserving" standing in my second preamble I have admitted that there are cases of indigence in old age which cannot be attributed to the demerits of the sufferer. Someone has said that success is a rough test of merit, but that it is the only test we have. Worldly success is too often a very delusive test indeed. The formula of the survival of the fittest is a truism which is made to cover a deal of falsehood. It merely means that those survive who are fittest to survive; it is falsely supposed to imply that they are necessarily fittest for any other purpose. Those who succeed in the worldly struggle do so sometimes because they are fitter for gaol, and often because they are less fit for Heaven, than those whom they surpass. Mr Booth mentions the case of a young girl of his acquaintance who was earning 10s a month in service, and out of that for some time sent 8s a month to her poor and aged mother. The prospects of worldly success for that young creature were not brilliant. In after life she would probably be stripping herself in the same way for her children, and, it may be, a drunken husband, and thereby, according to the cant of the survival of the fittest, ultimately establishing her fitness for the workhouse.
Two Kinds of Haloes.
Such cases are to be found among the page 5 pensioners of the Charity Organisation Society of London, and doubtless also in connection with any other large charitable institution; and they show that the world's failures include some who have a better title to be crowned than the proudest lady in the land, though, of course, it is a halo, and not an earthly crown that should be theirs. But as this award is not in our power, I would not quarrel with a Bill, whatever might be its name, which promised some genuine solace for the declining years of such a life. Ten times the pauper's dole that is proposed in this Bill would, on such a purpose, be money well spent, and we could afford it all if the 90 per cent, of undeserving whom the Bill threatens to endow could be effectually excluded. It is to the endowment of these unworthy that I object. I protest against diminishing the national dividend available for the widow and the orphan and the faithful failures in life's struggle by the admission of the class of man whose only halo is the halo round his nose that marks the blossoming of a long course of self-indulgence. If we can amend the world's rough justice by some more accurate measurement, by all means let us do it; but let us remember that the experiment is one of infinite delicacy and danger; and, above all, let us not forget that indiscriminate bounty will in the long run only aggravate the hardships that we seek to cure, and postpone the dawning of the brighter day that we are endeavoring to hasten.
The Qualifications of a Pensioner.
Every person in the colony of the age of sixty five years or upwards is to be entitled to a pension of £18 a year for the rest of his life, provided—
1. That be resides in the colony, and has so resided for twenty years. 2. That during the ten years preceding his application he has not been imprisoned for four months or on four occasions for any offence punishable by imprisonment for twelve months and dishonoring him in public estimation. 3. That during the five years preceding his application he has not for twelve months or more deserted his wife or without just cause failed to maintain her or his children under fourteen years. (Analogous provisions are made where the claimant is a woman.) 4. That he is of good moral character, and is leading a sober and reputable life. 5. That his income does not amount to £1 a week, nor the net capital value of his property to £540. 6. That he has not deprived himself of property or income in order to qualify.
An applicant who can satisfy these conditions has an absolute right to a pension, no discretionary power being reserved to any authority to qualify or withhold it.
The Case of Mr W. Sikes.
Owing to a well-known infirmity of the human mind, general terms rarely impress it with the full force to which they are logically entitled; a concrete illustration is far more effective. Let me therefore embody these conditions in an example. Mr Wm. Sikes, formerly of Houndsditch, burglar, having exhausted the hospitality of the citizens of London and the Imperial Government, emigrates towards the close of his forty-fifth year to New Zealand as a suitable place for the evening of his days. Hearing that the Old Age Pensions Bill, 1898, has become law he wishes to qualify under it. At the same time, he is anxious not to make too violent a break with his past, but to have as good a time according to his notions as the pension qualifications will allow. He accordingly comes to consult me as an expert in "liquor and crime and that sort of thing." In a case which Lord Coleridge once tried at the Exeter Assizes a complaint of the unchristian conduct of the other side was met by the judge with the remark: "We have nothing to do with Christianity here; we are lawyers." In the interview which follows I wish it to be distinctly understood that I speak as a lawyer and not as a Christian. Being consulted as a lawyer I am bound to advise as a lawyer, and to point out to Mr Sikes the minimum qualification required by the Act.
Ten Years of Crime and Drink.
"Has a man got to work?" might naturally be his first question. "No," I should have to answer; "you needn't do a hand's turn for the whole twenty years. There is nothing about labor and skill except in the preamble. And as for skill, you can carry on your old business for a start. The preamble speaks about opening up the resources of the colony, but opening up other people's houses will do for the present. A conviction, or any number of convictions, will do you no harm as long as you're out of gaol again within ten years from now. It was at first proposed that imprisonment should count as absence from the colony, but the Legislature has obligingly met your requirements by striking out the clause. You can spend the whole ten years in gaol, if you prefer it." No, he wouldn't prefer it; he would like a drink now and then, he says inquiringly. "Oh, that will be all right," I explain (I am still speaking as a lawyer). "How would five years of burglary and goal, and then another five knocking round the respectable bars of Wellington—they are all respectable—how would that suit you?" "D.T.?" he queries dubiously. "No disqualification," I reply. Even if it gets you into gaol, it won't matter for the first eighteen years at any rate. Whether habitual drunkenness, as it does not hinder a man from being elected to Parliament, could be held to be "dishonoring in the public estimation" where a pensioner is concerned I cannot say; but fortunately for you the question does not arise, for even habitual drunkenness is not punishable by imprisonment for twelve months. But after the eighteen years you had better go a bit easy, as you have to qualify as "sober and moral" at the end of the twenty.
Ten Years on the Benevolent.
This last part of the programme pleased him very well, but he was distressed at the notion of abandoning his calling for ten years; there was no other work that he could do. "Then," I reply, "don't do it. Our pension law is not so hard a task-master as St. Paul. Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor," says the Apostle. "Let him that stole steal not after fifty-five, but let him be under no obligation to labor then or at any other time," says the pension law. "If honest work disagrees with your constitution try the Benevolent." "The House? "he inquires rather savagely. "No," I say; "take it outside if you prefer it. Money is no object in this happy land. This city alone spends £10,000 a year on public charity, and most of it out-of-doors and go-as-you-please. You're just the sort of deserving case our Benevolent Trustees would welcome with open arms and keep there for the whole ten years."
Family and other Matters
"Missus and kids?" is his next question. "They needn't trouble you," I tell him. "You can let them all slide during the first ten years; the country will see to them. In the next five you may still desert them if you don't get more than four months or four sentences for it. In the last five years they can all accompany you on to the Benevolent, or as your children will all be over fourteen you can leave them to themselves; but you musn't run away from your wife for more than a year, or you lose your pension if she comes to the magistrate and tells." "But she won't!" he says significantly; "anything else?" "At the time of applying you have got to be of good moral character, and leading a sober and reputable life." He grins as he asks how much that means. "It's very vague," I reply, "and can't mean much. If you've not been in gaol or found drunk within the last year or two, and can get a publican to certify to your character, it ought to be enough." And as the last condition point out that at the time of applying his earnings must not exceed £1 a week, nor his capital £540. He has not been accustomed to take Government officials into his confidence in these matters, and during his career in England his professional income never figured in the schedules of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. He therefore sees no difficulty on this score.
A "Deserving Colonist."
Whereas it is equitable that deserving colonists who during the prime of life have helped to bear the public burdens of the colony by the payment of taxes and to open up its resources by their labor and skill should look to the colony for a pension in their old age.
After further unrepeatable exclamations of wonder and delight Mr Sikes withdraws, and as he goes—gaol-bird, drunkard, loafer, brute—on his congenial way to qualify as a "deserving colonist" for an old age pensioni I thank my stars that, though as a lawyer I am bound to give a faithful interpretation of the law as it stands, I did my best as a citizen, while the question was still open, to keep such an immorality out of the Statute Book.
Merit Disqualifies, Demerit Qualifies.
The picture I have drawn is necessarily a fancy one, but it is essentially a true one nevertheless; clause and sub-clause can be cited from the Bill to justify every monstrosity that it involves. The preamble notwithstanding, there is no guarantee that a pensioner shall have done any work for the colony, or contributed one iota of honest labor and skill towards opening up its resources, or helped in any way whatever to bear the burden of taxation. Nor, on the contrary, is there any guarantee that he shall not have obstructed and neutralised the labor and skill of others, and made himself a burden to the taxpayer and a pest to society all his life. He may be in his own person a pest; he may also bring unhappy children into the world to be an additional burden to the community. Crime during the prime of life does not disqualify; idleness all life through does not disqualify; poverty and idleness or incapacity at sixty-five are necessary to qualify; and practically the only thing to disqualify is the industry and the care which at that age have accumulated the sum of £540 or are still competent to earn more than £34 a year or 2s 3d a day. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that there is practically no test of desert provided by the Bill except a negative one. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that demerit and not merit is what the Bill favors and fosters.
Sober and Moral.
It will be said, perhaps, that I am overlooking the condition in subsection 6: That he is of good moral character, and is leading a sober and reputable life." As the Bill allows unlimited license to all crime till past the prime of life, and to petty crime afterwards, and as it avoids making any number of convictions for drunkenness a bar, I contend that unless an applicant had been proved in a court of law or in some official or public fashion to be guilty of drunkenness or an offence involving immorality within, say, the last year or two at the outside, the magistrate who had the determination of the matter would be bound to pass him. And what our magistrates will do when there is no obligation in the matter we may learn from their practice under an analogous procedure. An applicant for a publican's license has to obtain a certificate from a magistrate vouching him to be "a person of good fame and reputation, and fit and proper to have a publican's license granted to him." The page 7 following persons have lately received certificates of "good fame and reputation" under this provision:—(1) An ex-constable who had been recently dismissed from the force for immorality; (2) the unsuccessful co-respondent in a divorce suit where the verdict amounted to a finding of perjury against him; (3) an habitual drunkard who had actually a prohibition order in force against him at the time of his application. If an habitual drunk and is of "good fame and reputation,' and a man to whom a Court has forbidden the sale of liquor is fit. To have a license which involves the constant buying, selling, and handling of it, then a man in delirium tremens is "leading a sober and reputable life," and entitled to be so certified under the Pension Bill. The certificate is waste paper in each case.
The Investigation of Claims.
From this point I naturally pass to another part of the Bill which is almost as vital as the preceding. I mean the machinery clauses. All the claims are to be transmitted to the magistrate for the district, who shall "fully investigate" the same, and in investigating it he may or may not require the personal attendance of the applicant (clause 18). That is practically the sum total of the provisions under this head. Now, a magistrate is a judicial and not a detective officer; he has no detective staff at his disposal, nor does the Bill give him one, or indeed any special staff whatever. No provision is made for any departmental investigation before the matter comes into court; no officer or person is given any standing in the court; the whole business is ex parte, and the value of an ex parte investigation covering a period of twenty (and possibly sixty-five) years, before a tribunal which has absolutely no independent means of knowledge, is obvious. It is much as though the Assessment Courts had to decide all questions before them after hearing the taxpayers' side of the case only, and without even the written valuation of the Tax Department as a check. The temptations to fraud which such a loose procedure holds out will be as irresistible to a needy claimant as the claim will be to the unhappy taxpayer; and the colossal swindles in connection with the United States war pensions, one-half of which, amounting in 1892 to nearly 80,000,000dol, are estimated to be the reward of fraud and not valor, may well find a humble but exact parallel here. To erect such flimsy machinery to meet the inevitable pressure is a direct incitement to fraud.
The Income Disqualification.
Convenient openings for fraud are also offered by the property and income disqualifications. The man who earns £52 a year gets no pension. The man who earns £34 a year or less gets the full amount of the pension, but for every £ he earns above that sum he loses £1 from his pension until at £52 a year he loses it altogether. The man who can earn £34 a year, but cannot earn more than £52, is just as well off with the former amount as with the latter, since the State will make good the difference. He has therefore the following alternatives open:—(1) To work up to his full capacity of £52 a year and forego his pension; (2) to work up to £34 a year only (i.e., to be idle to the extent of one-third of his working capacity) and to secure the pension; (3) to work up to the full amount, but return his earnings at the lesser sum, and thus secure the pension. The State will not often get the advantage of the first course. Human nature is not wont to work for nothing, and least of all is this to be expected from those who are both old and poor. Moreover, where the State is the other party to the transaction, men, whether young or old, deem it more blessed to receive than to give. This alternative, therefore, is not likely to be taken unless the pension is regarded as a badge of dishonor, and such a possibility will hardly be urged as a recommendation of the scheme. On the second hypothesis, the State will have lost the value of the labor wasted; on the third, the value of the pension. In the one case the pension will have promoted idleness, and in the other fraud.
The Effect Upon Wages.
A further consequence has to be considered in the effect of the dole upon the labor market. It is beyond dispute that in England the system of allowances out of rates in aid of wages crippled the independent laborer and lowered wages because the pauper with his State subsidy could afford to sell his labor cheaper, and was preferred by the employers in consequence. "It was demonstrated," said the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834, "that the allowance in aid of wages in reality operated as a grievous tax in diminution of them." It was subsequently demonstrated that an immediate rise of wages in the districts concerned followed upon the abolition of the system. Allowances limited to those above sixty-five years would not seem likely to affect the general rate of wages, but there must be some in the wage-earning class who will feel the full weight of the "grievous tax," and these will be the men whose earnings average somewhere about the limit of £52 a year, which disqualifies for a pension. Now, whether you hold with the false implication of this Bill, that poverty is in itself a test of merit, or whether you take the true test to be honest effort either of rich or poor, under either theory the struggling poverty which can just maintain its independence must satisfy your test and command] your sympathy; and it is this very class of strugglers, earning their £1 a week from light or casual work, who will have their sorry wages lowered and their independence undermined by State-aided competition. Thus the measure will make paupers, not merely by its direct inducements to idleness, but also by submerging those who, without the pensioners' competition, could have earned higher wages and remained free men. And whether these page 8 humble toilers succumb or not it is to be remembered that, while the struggle lasts, they are being taxed for those who pull them down.
The Property Disqualification.
The property disqualification does not threaten the same economic mischief. Every £30 worth of property is to take £1 off the pension, so that a man with £540 will lose it all. The principle is utterly wrong, but I do not imagine that a man will waste his property as he will waste his labor in order to qualify for a pension. There will be no riotous chorus of property-holders chanting "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow is our sixty-fifth birthday." But, instead of this waste, there will be fraudulent concealment and evasion, which, as a rule, will be quite impossible to trace. Here, again, the incentive is to vice, and virtue is left out in the cold. The honest man will lose his pension; the rogue will enjoy his property and the State bounty besides.
With regard to the financial aspect of the measure I will say little. About 7,000 claims were admitted under the Registration of People's Claims Act, 1896, which, at £18 a head, would mean a minimum cost of over £120,000, without allowing anything for administration. Against this some saving in the normal expenditure on charitable aid would have to be credited. That the total net addition to our annual expenditure would be from £200,000 to £300,000 in a few years, time seems to me a probable conjecture, and this amount it is proposed to charge upon the Consolidated Fund. This liability, huge as it is, is small in comparison with the other issues involved. Bentham said that the Turkish Government had impoverished some of the earth's finest provinces not so much by its exactions as by its effect upon motives. The distinction marks the chief danger of experiments with the poor law. The financial embarrassment which is commonly the result of mistakes in that sphere is a trifle compared with the moral ruin wrought by their effect upon motives. If the expenditure proposed were going to foster the virtues that exalt a nation I would not grudge a penny of it; but as it would foster vice and not virtue, it would pay us better to throw the money into the sea.
Charitable Aid Reform.
A few words in conclusion as to my own substitutes for the proposals of the Government. The questions of old age pensions and charitable aid, which are hopelessly confounded in the Bill, ought, in my opinion, to be separately treated. We want a thorough revision and simplification of our system of charitable aid which will establish direct and complete local control over the administration, and any pension scheme which is based upon poverty as well as old age should be grafted on to that system. Exacting tests of merit should be applied, but no attempt made to prescribe every qualification or disqualification by the rigid machinery of a statute. Human ingenuity is not equal to the task of making satisfactory provision in this way for all the details of every possible case. But some of the more important conditions might properly be statutory, and among them the most essential of all—that approved by Mr Booth and the English Royal Commission of 1893-95, and enacted in Denmark—viz, that the previous receipt of charitable aid, except in case of sickness or misfortune, should disqualify. I believe that this condition would be of more value as a guarantee of merit and an antidote to pauperism than all the provisos of the present Bill put together. Under no circumstances should an absolute right to a pension of this kind be recognised, and a wide discretion as to giving or withholding it, and as to the amount, should be left to the charitable authority. With an efficient and responsible administration the power might properly be given to grant something better than the miserable pittance of £18 a year, and thus to emphasise the distinction between the pensioners, whose poverty was without discredit, and the ordinary recipients of outdoor relief.
Of the genuine and universal pension schemes Canon Blackley's proposal for compulsory insurance seems to me the most logical end the most manly. It compels each man to bear the burden of his own old age, and secures the provision from him at the time when he can best afford it and would be most likely to waste it. It does nothing to encourage the dangerous superstition that the State is a kind of universal store from which each man may draw-according to his needs without contributing to it, yet without exhausting it, and without injustice or loss of self-respect. It fosters the truer and manlier doctrine, which recognises the obligation of the State in these matters, but considers it to be best discharged by quickening and supplementing instead of weakening individual responsibility and self-reliance. The Royal Commission on the Aged Poor pronounced against the scheme for England on the ground that public opinion there did not favor the compulsory principle. That was proper ground for Commissioners to take who were advising a Legislature as to immediate action, but it would be a mean and cowardly fatalism on the part of any member of a young and impressionable democracy to accept such a consideration as final. If the scheme is sound and would really be even a partial cure for a very great evil, then the public opinion which condemns the scheme needs altering, and not the scheme itself. Public opinion must be educated up to the approval of the remedy which in reason and principle appears to be the best. The best will then have become the practicable, and the evil can be grappled with.
Of course, the down grade is easiest. The line of least resistance is always easier, and nowhere is it so easy and so disastrous as in page 9 the sphere of the poor law. It is so easy to draw cheers by eulogies of those who have borne the burden and heat of the day, while concealing the fact that your proposals are so framed as to benefit those whom you dare not eulogise—the criminal and the idler, who have shirked the burden and heat of the day and left their share of it to others. It is so easy to say that there are 7,000 old people looking for your Bill to pass, and to reckon up that if they have four or five friends each there are 30,000 votes in the transaction, more than enough to turn the next General Election. It is so easy to say that pointing out the demoralising effect of a measure which puts a premium on improvidence, idleness, shift-lessness, and fraud is "casting a reflection on the people of this colony," when you know that this colony is not yet Utopia, or the Bill would not be needed; that its people have just about the ordinary allowance of human nature in them; and that, however great their virtue, it must be wicked to hold out before them encouragements to vice. It is so easy to say smooth things and prophesy deceits. All these things are easy, and the other part is often difficult, but I believe that there would be little difficulty in touching the conscience of the people on so clear a matter as this if it were clearly put before them. For the present it rests with Parliament, and not with the people. I trust that before disposing of it our legislators will gain a clearer knowledge of what they are being asked to do. To pass the Bill would mean irreparable disaster; to reject it would merely mean further consideration and consultation with the people. I trust that by rejecting it Parliament will save the colony, for the present at any rate, from the blackest danger with which in my experience it has been ever threatened.
A. R. Atkinson.
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