FOR RELIEF IN BELGIUM
THE CARE OF THE DESTITUTE
Like other prosperous, industrialized states, pre-war Belgium had her problems of poverty and poor relief, which she met with a fine spirit of generosity and solicitude. The destruction of property, the paralysis of economic life, the mobilization of breadwinners, and the general displacement of population which followed the German invasion enormously increased destitution, and the number of persons dependent in greater or less degree on charitable aid rose ultimately to over seventy-five per cent of the population. It fell to the relief organization, therefore, not merely to organize and administer the revictualment of the entire Belgian population but to make special provision for that part of the population deprived of the means of self-support. In order to perform these complementary functions, the Commission and the Comité National very early set up two administrative departments: a Provisioning Department with the task(463) of providing food for the entire civil population and a Benevolent Department to secure the means for the care of the destitute. The administrative structure of the Commission is described later in this book(464) but a brief account of the relationship of these two departments is necessary for an understanding of the manner by which the care of the destitute was supported.
1. Sources of Support
The Provisioning Department, with the funds placed in the Commission's hands, bought, transported, and delivered in Belgium, provisions which were sold through the internal organization to that part of the population able to buy them. The Provisioning Department became possessed, in this manner, of an accumulation of local paper currency(465) the greater part of which was immediately disbursed in the support of the destitute through the Benevolent Department.
Subventions to the Benevolent Department were of two general classifications according to the source from which they were derived, i.e., public charity and state aid. Public charity included the results of the world-wide campaign for gifts which has been described in the preceding chapter as well as the "profits" of the Provisioning Department. These "profits" resulted in part from a marginal charge on sales(466) of goods to the well-to-do in Belgium as well as profits of the Commission on transactions(467) outside of Belgium and Northern France. Of quite a different origin but serving the same purpose were state aid subventions comprising the equivalent of sums turned over to the Commission by the Belgian Government for the purpose of meeting obligations of the absent Government to citizens and institutions with which it had been deprived of direct contact. These obligations included support of benevolent institutions, pensions, separation allowances, salaries of civil servants, etcetera. This constituted in reality an exchange operation with food the implement of exchange, but it was also an extremely important contribution to the handling of the problem of destitution, since it provided in part at least for certain categories of the population which had been deprived of the means of self-support. From all these sources the relief organization expended over $558,000,000 in one way or another for the care of the destitute in Belgium.
As is shown later in this chapter, the administration of benevolence in Belgium was complicated because the extent of destitution steadily grew, and the degree of destitution of various groups increased, necessitating a frequent revision of the Benevolent Department's program.
In Northern France the administration was less complex. The occupied regions of France resembled a huge internment camp, where practically all economic activity and all movement of population were suspended and where measures of self-help such as were instituted in Belgium were out of the question. As is stated below the problem of relief was to provide a ration for every man, woman, and child, to insure a just distribution, and to employ a system of accounting by which at least some part of the funds advanced by the French Government as subsidies to the Commission might be recoverable by that Government after the war. Under the system of accounting set up, the Provisioning Department accepted the acknowledgment in terms of value of the French districts for the supplies imported. For this purpose prices were fixed periodically by the Commission sufficiently above the cost of the goods to create a reserve, safeguarding the people against loss in transportation and the Commission against fluctuations in the exchange. As this reserve accumulated, advances were made from time to time to the internal committees to meet special problems in the care of the destitute. This reserve, therefore, was the only source from which the Commission derived benevolent funds for Northern France,(468) since there was no general appeal for charitable contributions for this area. Unlike the system employed in Belgium, where the degree of dependency of beneficiaries was determined from day to day, in France rich and poor, partially and wholly dependent, were all provided with a ration by the Commission from the subsidies of the French Government. The obligation of the individual beneficiary to repay the Government according to his means was left for settlement after the war.
Although destitution was more general in Northern France than in Belgium (though it was never universal), the Commission's benevolent expenditures here because of this system were less, in relation to the total sums disbursed for general revictualment, than in Belgium. In the case of the latter approximately $558,000,000 was expended for benevolence as compared with the total of nearly $619,000,000 secured. In the case of France the corresponding figures were approximately $55,000,000 and $274,000,000. The total disbursements for benevolent purposes of one sort or another in both Belgium and Northern France during the Commission's operations were over $615,000,000 as indicated in the following tabulation:
I. Benevolent Account of the Commission
|a) Public subscriptions(469) in cash and in kind||
|b) Surplus of the Provisioning Department|
|1. Surplus on sales within Belgium and France and profits of the C.R.B. outside Belgium||
|2. Profits earned inside Belgium transferred to the C.R.B. by the C.N .||
|Total surplus of the Provisioning Department||
|Total Benevolent Account of the Commission||
II. State Aid
|Derived from government subsidies and dispensed in charity and financial and economic relief||
|Total Benevolent Expenditures||
DIVISION OF BENEVOLENT EXPENDITURE BY COUNTRY
|Northern Relief (Clothing)||
The organization necessary to meet the complex problems of destitution was the product of evolution from certain fundamental principles established by Hoover before the first imports were delivered.(470) Rather than attempt to illustrate with separate documents the step-by-step development of the system by which the care of the destitute was administered, it seems advisable to present extracts from the Commission's reports on benevolent operations written while the work was in full swing.
2. Care of the Destitute in Belgium. 1914-1917
DOCUMENT NO. 600
from report by PROFESSOR FRANK ANGELL(471) on the effect of the invasion on institutions of benevolence in Belgium
After the wave of invasion in August 1914 had rolled over Belgium and the people had so far recovered as to be able to look around to see what was to be done and could be done, they found a most extraordinary and crushing number of demands for relief and assistance, both of a general and special nature, which called for instant action. All business and industries had ceased and all the ordinary avenues of benevolence and charity had been blocked or submerged. At Mons, for example, the charitable organizations were called on to provide for an overwhelming number of individuals without wages, resources, or hope of employment. The State Insane Asylum for Women had been burned, and the inmates were roaming over the arrondissement to be cared for as best could be done in private families. The large and well-equipped city hospital had been seized by the Germans, and the Belgian sick and wounded had to be transferred to some place or any place that might give shelter. Not only in the Hainaut but in all the great industrial centers of Liège, Flanders, and Brabant the needs of the workmen thrown out of employment became crying; the usual channels for the supply and distribution of food were cut off and the necessitous part of the population was threatened with starvation. In the industrial city of Charleroi, with scanty municipal resources, fourteen hundred houses had been burned and the problem of sheltering the homeless was added to the tremendous task of providing for the unemployed. Visé, Dinant, and many other medium-sized towns had gone up in flames. Most of the villages in the agricultural portion of Luxembourg had their quota of burnt houses and barns, whilst throughout Belgium the number of buildings destroyed by incendiary flames ran into tens of thousands. Theaters and concert halls had closed; painters and sculptors were without patrons; teachers without pupils; lawyers and engineers without clients; doctors were overworked and unpaid; and, in general, classes of people peculiarly sensitive to hardship became destitute and dependent.
But beside this large number of the extraordinarily destitute of all ranks and conditions of men, there still remained the ordinary institutions of charity and benevolence of normal times---the orphanages, retreats, homes, hospitals, departments of charity, themselves overcrowded and choked by the flotsam and jetsam of the invasion and themselves calling for the succor and help which was their normal function to give. Under these circumstances there sprang into existence throughout Belgium, with extraordinary quickness all manner of self-appointed relief organizations to meet those needs which locally seemed the most pressing---committees for benefiting the unemployed, soldiers' families, and the necessitous in general; committees for furnishing milk for babes and food for nursing mothers; committees for providing temporary shelter, for supplying clothing, medical attendance, and medicines, and for caring for orphans of the war. Consequently, when the National Committee of Secours, representing all Belgium, came into existence it found a large number of committees, provincial, cantonal, communal, already in the field and the task of the relief organizations was to supplement some and suppress others and to reconstruct, standardize, and correlate all that it officially recognized. . . . .
Fig. 20 . LETTER, 14 AUGUST 1917, CARDINAL MERCIER TO HOOVER
DOCUMENT NO. 601
Extracts of Report,(472)
April 1917, by HOOVER on the distribution of benevolence in Belgium and in Northern France
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL EFFECTS OF THE INVASION
The invasion began on the 6th August 1914, and reached practically its present lines by the 15th October. It set in action three prime causes of increased destitution:
a) The displacement of people due to the destruction of heir homes.
b) The loss of breadwinners through death or through military mobilization.
c) The paralysis of industry and consequent unemployment.
There has been a considerable amount of home destruction throughout Belgium as the result of invasion and battle. This destruction has, proportionally, been greater in the smaller towns and villages, and the result has been that the consequent refugees have either overcrowded the houses of their immediate vicinity or migrated into the larger towns. The poorer members of this class are dependent almost wholly upon charity, not only for food but also for clothing and housing. It is difficult to estimate the number of such refugees, although the increase in population of the larger towns and the number of destroyed homes would indicate from 200,000 to 300,000.
The Belgian authorities at one time or another have mobilized probably 250,000 soldiers, and in addition considerable loss of civilian life has resulted from the invasion. Obviously many of these men had families relying on them which are now dependent upon charity.
The major source of destitution due to the war, however, arises under the third heading. Belgium, with its pre-war population of 8,000,000, comprised the most highly industrialized area in the world, and in peace times constituted a beehive of human activity.
Directly or indirectly, more than half the population is, in normal times, dependent on the conversion of raw material into manufactures for export abroad. The stagnation of industry induced by military occupation and the rigid blockade necessarily resulted in the total cessation of manufacturing dependent upon imports and exports. Furthermore, the manufactures for home consumption were diminished through the prevention of imports of raw material and, again, these interferences reacted on the purchasing power of the people and diminished the amount of employment in those enterprises in which raw material and manufactures are of local origin and consumption. A few statistics will emphasize the situation. The normal population of Belgium is 652 persons per square mile. The gross value of exports and imports per capita in 1912 was $209. These figures may be compared with Germany, for example, with a population of 310 per square mile and exports and imports of $77 per capita, or, again, with the United States , with a population of 31 per square mile and exports and imports per capita in 1913 of $44. It is also of interest to note that the gross tonnage of imports (foodstuffs excluded) into Belgium for 1912 was nearly 27,000,000 tons, and the tonnage of exports was nearly 19,000 ,000 tons.
Initially, the railways were entirely taken over by the invading army for military use, and telegraphs, posts, etc., were suspended, the population being largely interdicted from movement. The railways are now partially open to commercial traffic, and more movement is allowed in the occupation zone. Nevertheless, the total cessation of import and export activities has brought the industrial clock practically to a stop, and has induced among the industrial population an extraordinary percentage of unemployment, and among the intermediate classes a gradual exhaustion of resources.
PRE-WAR BELGIAN BENEVOLENT INSTITUTIONS
In order to gain a clear understanding of the organization required to meet the conditions imposed by destitution arising out of the war, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the character of the normal Belgian institutions for dealing with pauperism in its various phases, because, in creating an organization to mitigate the present situation, it has been the policy to support existing institutions, and only to inject new ones in so far as they have been rendered necessary.
Unfortunately, the sharp political and religious divisions existing among the people before the war prevented that co-ordination, centralization, and control of institutions essential to effectiveness and economy. In developing the existing war-emergency organization such centralization has had to be imposed, embracing all elements of the community and devoid of political and religious control .
The pre-war institutions dealing with destitution may be divided into four classes:
1. State institutions
2. Religious and lay foundations
3. La Commission des Hospices
4. Les Bureaux de Bienfaisance
It should be noted that the number of institutions engaged in the care and support of the destitute, feeble-minded, orphans, and various forms of pauperism and vagabondage is larger in Belgium in proportion to the population than in any other country.
The most important institutions directly under the State are the two great labor colonies at Merxplas and Hoogstraeten. The colony at Merxplas is distinctly a penal colony, while the one at Hoogstraeten is chiefly for old and infirm persons. In Belgium vagrancy is a penal offense and persons guilty of such offense are sent to one or other of these colonies, so that very little vagabondage exists in normal times. The State also supports, in some measure, through subventions, the Bureaux de Bienfaisance described later.
A great number of religious and lay foundations exist in Belgium for various conditions arising out of indigence. These have independent incomes from property and public benevolence and, furthermore, many of them undertake the care of orphans and the infirm on behalf of the Bureaux de Bienfaisance for stipulated payments per annum. Some idea may be gained of their importance by reference to the fact that there are six hundred such institutions engaged in the care of orphans alone.
La Commission des Hospices administers the established almshouses, dispensing what in England is known as "Indoor Relief"; these exist in approximately 330 communes. They are distinctly communal institutions and are financed from private charity, income from conferred property, communal subventions, and, in a minor degree, from the "Common Fund" referred to later on.
Les Bureaux de Bienfaisance exist in every one of the 2,700 communes into which Belgium is divided, and have the duty of providing for all poverty otherwise unrelieved. They are managed by a committee appointed by the communal council, are the recipients of public charity, and, in many cases, are possessed of property and incomes. If the revenue from these sources is insufficient, the deficiency is met from the exchequer of the commune concerned. The handling of individual cases of indigence or pauperism is extremely complicated. The bureaux may give direct assistance in cash or in kind, or may give subsidies in respect of special cases to any of the other institutions mentioned above, or they may enlist the assistance of such other institutions in their own activities. In general, these agencies form a catchall to deal with any cases not cared for by the other charitable and official foundations in the country.
In order to distribute the burden of the care of the blind, the deaf and dumb, the lunatics, etc., more fairly between the rich and poor communes, a "Common Fund" has been established in each province to which all the communes must contribute sums, varying according to their population and income, and to which the National Government adds a quarterly subvention.
Altogether these institutions comprise an extraordinary network of charitable effort covering the entire country and normally providing for the infinite variety of indigents to which all countries are subject. The total number of organizations in respect of all classes of institutional effort probably exceeds 4,000, caring for about 300,000 persons.
There are 2,770 communes and hameaux in the occupied portion of Belgium, having an average population of about 650 families each. Therefore, the number under each committee is not large. Furthermore, certain characteristics of Belgian social and economic life aid in determining the precise position of each inhabitant. Chief among these is fixture of residence. This condition has been made possible in Belgium by the enormous development of local or vicinal tramways interconnecting the towns and villages throughout the country with a fine network of narrow-gauge railroads operated at low rates of fare. In addition, the standard-gauge railroads give tickets to laborers at remarkably low rates, a commutation ticket over a distance of 20 kilometers good for six round trips a week costing 1.50 francs, or about one-fifth of a cent a mile. The outcome is that the workman, unable to find employment in his own town, seeks it in adjoining districts without giving up his local residence, to which he returns each night or week-end. Many of the coal miners in the vicinity of Charleroi come from various districts of Flanders, and about 40 per cent of the workmen living in Louvain find employment in places from three to twenty-five miles distant from that town. The local stability of the labor in Belgium therefore makes possible a detailed knowledge of individual circumstances that would be impossible with a constantly shifting working population.
The notable pre-war development of charitable institutions, both public and private, and the great numbers of co-operative associations of one kind or another, together with the highly developed communal organization in Belgium, have supplied means and personnel for meeting the present conditions to an extent that probably could not be realized by any other civilized people. The possible effect of all this charity in developing pauperism, even in normal times, or in sapping the spirit of independence, is a question aside from the intent of this report. The point to be emphasized here is that when this unparalleled increase in the number of unemployed and impoverished men and women and helpless children arose in Belgium, there was at hand an army of helpers versed in the organization of relief work and skilled in the economic distribution of alms.
RELIEF CLASSIFICATION OF THE POPULATION
From the relief point of view, the present population of about 7,400,000 may be divided into the following classes:
a) The commercial, professional, and better-to-do classes generally, including that part of the community which derives support directly from them. Roughly estimated, this section comprises 2,000,000 persons.
b) The agricultural class, estimated at 1,000,000 persons.
c) Those whose breadwinners are at the front or have been lost during the various phases of the war, estimated at approximately 350,000 persons; also internal refugees, probably 200,000, partially coming under this category and partially under d.
d) The industrial and semi-professional workers and that portion of the population in turn dependent upon them, estimated total roughly 3,500,000.
e) The normal pauper class comprising the infirm, orphans, etc., probably 300,000 persons.
The commercial, professional, and better-to-do classes generally have reserves of credit upon which they can, in the main, support themselves, given that food supplies are available for purchase. The problem of their relief, however, does not end at this point, because the local issues of paper currency are not convertible for the purchase of foodstuffs abroad, except in so far as they can be converted by a limited amount of permitted commercial exchange or, with the assistance of foreign governments, be interpreted into gold. As time goes on even this class shows signs of exhaustion and it has been necessary to evolve measures for its support in certain directions.
The agricultural class embraces about 1,000,000 people; these are in a state of greater economic security than any other class of the community, largely because the habit of the European peasant is to maintain himself directly out of the production of his fields. From the 1915 and 1916 harvests the intensive cultivation in Belgium resulted in the production of a surplus of foodstuffs beyond the requirements of the agricultural class and, as these foodstuffs have been saleable at considerably more than normal prices, this section of the population is probably in a better economic situation than before the war.
Those who have lost their breadwinners through mobilization and death might or might not have fallen into destitution had the breadwinner remained behind, since he might have been unable to find employment; but be that as it may, there can be no question about their total dependence on charity in the present situation.
As stated above, the industrial population provides the most difficult problems of destitution. This population falls into two classes, one including those without any resources whatever, and another somewhat smaller class composed of those who from time to time are able to contribute to their own support. A considerable number of manufacturing concerns, whose pre-war stocks of raw material escaped military requisition, were able for some time to give a measure of employment to their workmen. These stocks, however, are now long since exhausted. In February 1917 the occupying authorities took measures to close all establishments employing more than twelve men, save public utilities and a certain few exceptions. Industry in Belgium is therefore at a standstill.
There is, of course, some surviving activity in the country, through small commerce, maintenance of public officials, operation of tram lines and municipal services, the partial operation of coal mines, etc. During the planting and harvest seasons a certain amount of temporary work is afforded on farms. Many families also have small fields or garden plots, from which they contribute something to their upkeep, and many of the working population possessed accumulated savings, out of which they have been able to support themselves in diminishing measure.
Extent of destitution.---It will be appreciated that any exact census of "destitute" or "partially destitute" is wholly impossible. Were communications not under such complete restriction it might be possible to determine at a given day the number wholly dependent on the benevolent relief that particular day, and those partially dependent. The number would obviously be different the next day. Moreover, the number might be the same but the individuals different. An approximation, however, of the number who receive help in some form, directly or indirectly, from the Relief Organization can be made from the data presented in the following pages. To review the facts given:
Under the Communal Committees the number on the bread line, men, women, and children without work and dependent entirely on public charity because of industrial stagnation, is, approximately, 1,700,000. The families who are without their breadwinners owing to the war amount to about 350,000 individuals. Those unemployed receiving supplemental allowances amount to about 1,600,000. The apparent totals on this division are therefore about 3,650,000. There is, however, a considerable overlap for the supplemental allowances, which are more often than not given to those who are assisted at the canteens. On the other hand, some thousands of people are supported by work in the clothing establishments, and many others not otherwise in receipt of relief receive clothing and shelter. However, an approximate elimination for overlap indicates that at least 2,700,000 different individuals are being helped by the Communal Committees.
Under the Special Committees and established institutions the numbers not included above are approximately as follows. Children under special care total about 31,000. The number of pre-war orphans, blind, insane, infirm, etc., under the Bureaux de Bienfaisance and pre-war charity organization generally is probably 300,000. The officers' families, school teachers, artists, doctors, foreigners, laceworkers, etc., comprise approximately 160,000 individuals. The constantly increasing number of refugees arriving in Belgium from the North of France at this date has attained a total of 200,000. This division in all, therefore, covers approximately 700,000 persons not otherwise provided for.
Under the help given to the loan institutions, and through the operation of special remittances, a large number are saved from falling into actual destitution. The number thus assisted now averages about 600,000 persons. Altogether it seems that, on a conservative basis, the number of persons receiving help in some form through the organization approximates nearly 4,000,000 individuals, or over 50 per cent of the entire population.
It will at once be realized that the efficient distribution of benevolence depends upon the thoroughly competent assessment of the economic position of every claimant to charity, and the adjustment of help to the minimum absolutely required to supplement his own resources. To accomplish this a large measure of local autonomy as to details is required, with local administrators of high character and ability who are familiar with individual needs, as well as a careful supervision of the local authorities by a superstructure of inspecting and accounting officials.
Every social worker will recognize that such discrimination is vitally necessary in order to prevent waste and the demoralization due to imposition and unnecessary idleness. The determination of actual needs calls for inquiries into the manner of life and circumstances of each applicant, almost inquisitorial in their intimacy, and demands the co-operation of a great number of people of local knowledge, skilled in treating the problem of unemployment and pauperism.
RELIEF ORGANIZATION FOR BENEVOLENCE
Distributing agencies.---In order to meet the various requirements of distribution two classes of agency have been created, and close co-operation established with a third:
a) Communal Charity Committees
b) Special charity committees
c) Support of public services and state institutions.
Communal Charity Committees.---In developing the organization the first consideration has been to act through established institutions and only to inject new organisms when the old could not be applied to the conditions imposed by the present situation. Moreover, the fitting of necessary new organisms to the old has required a great deal of local autonomy, so that the details of procedure are by no means uniform in the various provinces and districts. The extension of war-charity organization beyond the old established institutions has been accomplished in the main by the creation of new local Charity Committees in each commune. These committees are not to be confounded with the constitutionally elected communal councils nor with the Bureau de Bienfaisance, but, like the Provisioning Committees, they are a new injection into the situation. They are non-partisan---i.e., made up of equal representation from each of the political parties---Liberal, Clerical, and Socialist. They also contain representatives from the ranks of employers and employees. The secretary of the local Bureau de Bienfaisance is usually secretary of the new Charity Committee, which, in addition, contains members of the communal council, often the burgomaster, and representatives of the various trades. The committees, therefore, represent a considerable collection of information applicable in determining the probable condition of the petitioners for relief and assistance. The control and direction of these committees is secured through the implements of subvention and inspection.
The Communal Charity Committees are the keystone of the charitable distribution. While certain departmental controls have been set up by the central organization and a good many regulations laid down, when all is said and done it is the 2,770 communal committees who distribute about 75 per cent of the charity and on whom rests the primal responsibility of maintaining the ideals of the Relief Organization and preserving it free from the taint of corruption or incompetence. Blemishes of this kind, however, have been of extraordinary rarity; on the contrary, the self-denial with which all classes in Belgium have devoted themselves to the work with increasing efficiency ever since its initiation merits a tribute greater than words can convey.
The controlling factor in the whole vast scheme of relief is the "state of need" of the individual, and it is only by intimate investigation and local knowledge that this can be determined. In the correctness of this determination lies the organization's security against leakage and wastage, whether through carelessness or ignorance or fraud, whether deliberate or induced by necessity. Moreover, it is a determination calling for the greatest judgment, tact, and sympathy on the part of the committees. No excuse is needed for setting out in some detail the considerations and precautions that enter into these inquiries, and for this purpose a description of the procedure in such a representative commune as that of Mons is given. When an applicant presents himself at the office of the Communal Charity Committee to ask for assistance, he is required to have with him all the documents in his possession bearing on his civic status and means of subsistence (carte d'identité, age, residence, photograph, etc.), certificates of pension (old age, sickness, and accident), certificates of assistance from the Bureau de Bienfaisance, a list of his holdings of property such as his house, land, calves, heifers, pigs, chickens, etc., together (if married) with his marriage certificate and the names and ages of his wife and children (if any). These documents are checked by records in possession of the communal committee, consisting of employers' lists of workmen (showing period of employment and wages), lists of benevolent societies, particularly the Bureaux de Bienfaisance, pension lists, and other records of the commune, including those of the police. The committee at Mons has the assistance of a force of twenty-six citizens forming a local Commission de Surveillance, the greater part of which is representative of the different trades and employers. When the committee desires more information as to an applicant than is given by the recorded documents, a member of this commission is sent specially to report. This particular commission, through its membership, reports according to trades and industries. On the other hand, in the neighboring town of Jemappes the commission reports by districts. Above this "Commission de Surveillance" comes a controller (paid 3 to 4 francs a day) appointed by the Communal Charity Committee and reporting directly to it. He takes up difficult cases and superintends the work of the volunteer members. The communal committee itself forms a sort of interlocking directorate. The secretary at Mons, for instance, is also secretary of the local Bureau de Bienfaisance and, as such, is the man in the community best acquainted with the class from which the unemployed come. One of the members is also a member of the regular communal council, well acquainted with the communal records, and he assists in checking up the applicants' financial status. Above the communal committee and its inspectors comes a hierarchy of controllers representing the superior committees arrondissemental, provincial, Comité National, and the Commission for Relief in Belgium---who travel through the commune checking up the work of subordinate committees.
Up till September last the assistance was never in cash, except where a family had lost its breadwinner by the war, but always in the form of "bons" (orders good for certain amounts of merchandise). The "bons" could be presented either at the C.R.B. food-stores or at the Communal Co-operative stores (where native foodstuffs are sold). In some villages and towns the "bons" were accepted by the trade and became current money within the town. Namur Province, to avoid this monetary confusion and as a result of experience, in place of the "bons" adopted a book in which were entered all grants of assistance. To further simplify the system, however, and to obviate the necessity of accounting for "bons" the Comité National decided, September 1st, 1916, to allow the charity payments in the form of cash.
The communal committees do not receive their entire resources from the central organization, particularly in the matters of general assistance, clothing, and shelter, the aim of the central organization being to supplement the resources of local charity only so far as is absolutely necessary, just as the communal committees supplement the resources of the individual.
Special charity committees.---In addition to the Communal Charity Committees a wide class of special committees devoted to the special problems created by war conditions has been formed. These special committees may or may not work in co-operation with the communal committees, or with the pre-war institutions, as the need may be.
They are given subventions from the central administration to supplement other resources obtained by direct public benevolence, or, in some cases, by remunerative production. They expend their assistance either directly or through the agency of special subcommittees, the communal committees, or the pre-war benevolent institutions.
Support of public services and special institutions.---Under this head are grouped a widely extended series of operations in the nature of loans which can be liquidated after the war, but which in the present emergency have none the less a benevolent aspect.
DIVISION OF RELIEF MEASURES BETWEEN PUBLIC CHARITY AND GOVERNMENTAL SUBSIDY
At the outset it was hoped that the need for relief would continue for only a few months. The period, however, has extended beyond all expectations, and, in consequence, three special conditions have developed. First, the amount of destitution has increased, and the rise in the prices of foodstuffs and transport has further augmented its volume. Second, generous as the world's charity has been, the required measure of relief could not be continued without substantial regular assistance of a volume only to be compassed by governmental subvention. Third, the problem of converting receipts from food sales into external credit outran the available commercial exchange. It was therefore agreed in February, 1915, that the British and French Governments would advance monthly in the form of a loan £500,000 and 12,500,000 francs respectively to the Belgian Government at Havre for the service of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. These advances have been made regularly through 1915 and 1916. In the early part of 1917 they were slightly increased to cover larger expenditures made by the Commission. Beginning 1st June the advances to the Belgian Government are to be made by the United States.
As a result of the spread of destitution, the rapid extension of special relief measures and the increasing preponderance of governmental subsidies in the Commission's income, it has been necessary to establish a sharp division between those measures undertaken with public subscriptions and those undertaken with government assistance. The soup kitchen, free bread tickets, feeding of children, clothing and shelter for the destitute and homeless, were the instinctive and first-applied measures of relief. These were established with the public gifts and have been continued on this basis throughout the period covered by this report. The new measures, many of them in the nature of state service which affords economic and financial rather than benevolent relief, have been carried out with government subsidies.
The various committees set up to execute detailed relief may, therefore, receive resources from two fundamentally different funds.
Services maintained by public charity.---The following represent the services initiated or maintained in the past by public charity from abroad:
a) Public Provisioning (the bread lines, canteens, etc.), administered by the Communal Committees.
b) Clothing of the destitute-distribution effected through the .Communal Committees.
c) Provision of temporary shelters-administered through the .Communal Committees.
d) Special Committees as follows:
Assistance to Children
Assistance to Lace-Workers
Assistance to Refugees
Assistance to Foreigners
Assistance to Artists
Assistance to Doctors and Pharmacists
Restoration of Churches
Assistance to Destitute Young Mothers
Assistance to Belgian Prisoners of War
Assistance to War Cripples
Assistance to Dispossessed
Assistance to Antwerp Workrooms
League for Prevention of Tuberculosis
Restoration of Churches
Cardinal Mercier's Clergymen's Fund
And some twenty others
State aid.---The services maintained by government subsidy are:
a) Allowance to families whose breadwinners have been lost owing to the war
b) Supplementary allowances to the destitute
c) Advances to Bureau of families of officers and non-commissioned officers
d) Advances to the Société coopérative d'Advances et de Prêts (Loan Society)
e) Assistance to the Communal via the Provincial Governments
f) Advances to the Caisse d'Epargne (Savings Bank)
g) Advances to the Auxiliaire des Sociétés d'Habitations ouvrières (Building and Loan Societies)
h) Advances to the Bureau de Bienfaisance
i) Advances to the Educational Institutions
j) Assistance (in part) for children and for war orphans
PUBLIC CHARITY DISTRIBUTION THROUGH COMMUNAL CHARITY COMMITTEES
Public provisioning and general assistance ("Bread Line Division")---This comprehensive branch of charity distribution is the outcome of the initial emergency effort made at the inception of relief organizations. It now consists, in the main, of the support given the canteen-system of bread and soup distribution. Bread and soup are alone insufficient to maintain life over a prolonged period and must be supplemented by other articles, so that other resources are presupposed. From time to time, however, with the growth of destitution, special classes or divisions of the population have had to be differentiated from the general mass and provided with supplemental support. Some departments even render their clientele independent of the bread line, but most of them simply supplement it. The bread line therefore is, as a rule, necessary as a foundation, even for the differentiated groups: there is always a class to be fed that does not fall within such special provisions and that has to be cared for in respect of its extra necessities by the communal committees. The principal expenditure under this heading, however, arises out of the support of the public canteens now established in all congested areas. These enterprises were started at the outbreak of war, partially by the communes and municipalities themselves and partially by private effort. They have been added to in numbers by the Communal Charity Committees, all being now, to some extent, financially assisted through this division.
The supplies for the canteens comprise in part overseas imports of the Commission for Relief in Belgium purchased from the Communal Provisioning Committees, and in part native supplies purchased in the open market, the canteen managers standing in relation to the Provisioning Department precisely as would any other customer. The canteens must not be confused with the stores conducted by the Communal Provisioning Committees, as they are absolutely separate establishments. The former provide the method of furnishing public meals for the more needy class of the population. The latter furnish food (in an unprepared state) to all classes, according to their relative necessity.
All canteen relief is issued upon tickets distributed by the Communal Charity Committees. The cost of these tickets is borne generally in one of the two following ways: (a) by the recipient out of his personal resources, or (b) by the recipient out of the charity allowance made to him in part by the Committee, in part by the communal authorities.
The participation of the communal authorities in the cost of the ration is the essential condition to which the Committee subordinates its intervention. This principle has been adopted with the object of avoiding an unnecessary increase in the number of rations and of interesting the communes in the observance of the conditions imposed by the central organization. In Brussels, for instance, the various communes of the Agglomération are divided into a number of Provisioning Committees, each having its canteen. At the head of each canteen area is the Communal Committee, or a subcommittee drawn from the inhabitants of the quarter. These committees are seconded in their task by devoted women who attend to the distribution of rations with admirable tact and solicitude. Nearly 400,000 rations are distributed daily in the Agglomération. The ration consists of a pint of soup and the standard ration of 330 grammes of brown whole wheat bread. In addition, a second issue of soup may be served at night if the organization of the canteen permits. When this second issue of soup is not provided there is (or at least was until the recent shortage of imported foodstuffs in Belgium)(473) an equivalent distribution of foodstuffs which can be prepared at home, such as rice, peas, beans, bacon, and lard, or of tickets which can be issued against the foodstuffs procurable from the tradespeople of the commune, or the warehouses of the Communal Provisioning Committee.
The average cost of the soup at the canteens throughout Belgium is 20 centimes the quart, or 10 centimes for the regular pint ration. In those places where the daily bread ration is served at the same time as the soup, the former costs an additional 15 centimes, making a total of 25 centimes per day. Under the present arrangement the communal authorities in most Belgian towns and villages do not intervene directly in making their part of the payment for the soup furnished the needy population. Their financial help is more often given as a subsidy to the Communal Charity Committee, which in turn, after selecting those worthy of assistance, distributes the soup tickets.
The feeding of the children in Belgium is a great special work aside from that of the "general canteens," and one of equal importance. Children's canteens are now established universally throughout the country. This particular subject will be dealt with more fully a little farther on.
In some centers "economic" restaurants have been established by the communal committees or by benevolent groups for the middle classes of straitened means. Good meals are served at from 15 to 25 centimes, a portion of the operating cost being borne by the communal authorities or the communal committees and some initial expense directly by the central organization.
The funds allotted to this department are also used to supplement the bread line ration where other funds do not intervene or are insufficient; for instance, where unemployed casual laborers, seamstresses, charwomen, clerks, messengers, etc., are excluded from the section devoted to skilled unemployed and must have supplemental income if they are wholly destitute of resources.
The original function of the canteens was to supply a meager ration of bread and soup, supplemental to the remaining individual resources. With the lapse of time four conditions developed, by reason of which the canteen system required reinforcement: (a) the excessive growth of the number of destitute; (b) the complete exhaustion of all resources of a large proportion of the necessitous, owing to long unemployment, especially in the skilled trades; (c) the decreasing local resources of the communal committees; (d) the inadequacy of the canteen food to support life properly. To meet the growing exhaustion of individual resources, various articles were gradually added to the canteen supplies, such as potatoes, coffee, soup, lard, peas, beans, rice, etc. This expansion of necessary commodities and of numbers dependent threatened to disorganize the canteen system by overwork and, furthermore, to displace much small commerce which it was highly desirable to preserve. Potatoes, salt, sugar, soap, fuel, etc., being, in the main, drawn from the country itself, their distribution by the canteens not only entailed an uncalled-for overtaxing of their abilities but also a dislocation of economic machinery. In consequence, other branches of relief were developed to relieve pressure upon the soup-kitchens and to provide supplemental resources to certain classes. The number of people served at the canteens during 1916, therefore, remained about stationary, and the "Soupes" underwent no further development in this period. The extremely difficult winter of 1916-17 and the past spring, however, have given an enormous impetus to the "Soupes." During a pinch such as Belgium has suffered since the declaration of the German blockade, the C.R.B. and Comité National in Belgium wished to use their limited food stocks in giving the maximum aid to the poor. This was done in cutting down the food rations of the generality of the population to a very low point, so as to conserve a large part of the food stocks for the canteens. In order to avail themselves of this benefit, over 2,000,000 people were taking their daily soup ration in April 1917. The "Soupe Populaire" has well proved its utility, particularly in this last critical period, as an inestimable boon to the industrial and heavily populated regions, such as Liège, Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi, and Mons, where upward of 35 per cent of the inhabitants go to the canteens.
Theory of the "People's Canteen."---The "Soupe Populaire" as a means of relief for the poor has shown itself such an efficient institution that it will be of value to take a passing glance at the objects which the Commission and the Comité National have had in mind in favoring its promotion. In a country where the amount of foodstuff, native and imported, is fixed, and where these foodstuffs are not sufficient comfortably to feed the entire population, the poor are bound to suffer from the economic result. The principle is this: the wealthier class by their demand force food prices to a point outside the reach of the man of limited means. It is extremely difficult (and in the case of Belgium under German rule, impossible) to lay hands on all foodstuffs within the country, and report on these at fixed prices to all inhabitants on the same basis. The Government can control, however, the employment of imported foods in such a way as specially to help the poor who cannot buy their share of high-priced native food products. This is what the Commission, with its imported food monopoly, has done in Belgium.
The great problem which arises in making this distinction between the needy and the well off is not easy of solution. There are many shades of need between the two extremes. Furthermore, to examine individually the status of every person in a country of 7,000,000, and to accord the same relative treatment throughout the country, is practically impossible. The "Soupe Populaire" has solved this question in automatically separating the population into two great divisions, those who do and do not go to the canteens. The farmer, the man of means, the town man with a small garden; in fact, all those who still have some resources or provision, do not go to the "Soupes." It is the poor man, the laborer, and oftentimes the man of the middle class whose economies have been exhausted by the long drain of the war, who frequent the canteen.
In the Province of Hainaut, for instance, the first division includes 700,000 people, the second 400,000, who take home their daily cooked rations from the canteens. The Provincial Committee therefore focuses its aid as far as possible on the needy 400,000. This division benefits not only in receiving its pint of soup each day at the canteen, but the fact that its members indicate their need in being obliged to go to the canteen has led the Committee to accord these people certain supplementary rations of uncooked food. In April 1917, for example, those of the first division received the general monthly ration of 400 grams of rice, peas, and beans, and 400 grams of bacon and lard. Those of the second division received: (1) the general ration of 400 grams of rice, peas, beans, and 400 grams of lard and bacon; (2) a special supplementary ration of the same size; and (3) the 1,200 grams of peas, beans, rice, and 400 grams of bacon and lard used in preparing the soup during the course of a month.
Those of the second division, therefore, received five times as much in rice, peas, beans, and three times as much in bacon and lard as the first division. Bread, which is entirely controlled by the Relief Commission and which is lacking to all alike, is rationed equally to everyone. In certain places, as at Brussels, however, a small supplement taken at the expense of the mass of the population is allowed for those who go to the canteens.
Last of all, the Commission, foreseeing the difficult situation of Belgium, whose native resources of foodstuffs were fast approaching exhaustion, planned to put into effect a scale of very substantial supplementary uncooked rations (rice, peas, beans, herrings, coffee, bacon, lard) for the clientele of the canteens. The system was just under way when the German blockade was declared, and in order to conserve stocks within the country it unfortunately had to be abandoned in large part. These rations were to have been forwarded free to the poor, or against a light payment to those who had some small resources, the losses thus incurred to be borne by the Commission's Provisioning Department, fortified by subsidies from the Belgian Government. The expenditure in this division up to 31st October 1915, was $24,552,426.53.
Clothing department.---Obviously the working and lower classes possess in no community much reserve of clothing, and the suspension of income must, sooner or later, reduce them to the position of being underclad and their health being thereby seriously endangered. Moreover, newborn babies and young children require a start in life's affairs and frequent renewals. A central clothing establishment was therefore set up in Brussels at the initiation of relief measures, and similar, though less extensive, establishments have been created in the leading provincial centers, and all the clothing from these is issued free of charge. The sources of clothing to the central establishment have been of four orders:
1. Local gifts from individuals and institutions throughout Belgium
2. Gifts in kind, from abroad, either made clothing or materials
3. Purchase of local material and its manufacture on behalf of the central establishment
4. Purchase and importation of cloth and material abroad, which is made up into garments by the workshops in Belgium
Belgium in normal times imports the great bulk of its textile materials, and as there have been no imports since the invasion, with the lapse of time the supplies obtainable from the first two sources have gradually diminished until the establishment has become practically entirely dependent upon gifts from abroad or purchases by the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The great importance of the operations conducted by the central establishment may be appreciated by the fact that to the end of January 1917, a total of 9,123,874 garments had been distributed.(474) The made-up new clothing was sent directly to the central warehouse for classification. All secondhand clothing is sent to a repairs department, where the articles are disinfected, overhauled, washed, remade, and generally placed in a serviceable condition. This department employs a large number of workpeople at a sufficient wage to enable them to live. The new material is collected in a central workroom where garments are sent and assembled in packages containing all the necessary adjuncts for making up, and these packages are delivered to sewing women throughout the cities, payment for their labor being made against return of completed articles. Furthermore, considerable quantities of material have been handed for completion to various mutual trade associations in order that skilled workpeople, i.e., tailors, boot- and hat-makers, etc., could be given controlled employment, which would provide them with subsistence. Altogether an average of upward of 20,000 people are employed by the central establishment in Brussels alone. Similar establishments, on a smaller scale, exist in certain other large cities, and are, in the main, supported by local charity and provisioning committees, but receive some cash help from the central organization. Moreover, material and clothing are supplied to them by the central establishment. Distribution of all clothing is carried out through the communal committees, these committees being required to send to the central establishment (through their provincial committees) an indent showing the precise garments needed and the name and condition of the individual for whom they are intended. The clothing is then selected in the central warehouse, made into special packages, and dispatched to the commune concerned. This arrangement has avoided the necessity of carrying any clothing stocks in the communes, and has been found efficacious and economical. One result is that it is possible for the Central Clothing Establishment to state exactly the individual to whom any garment passing through the hands of the central establishment has been delivered.
One branch of peculiar solicitude has been the provision for newborn babies. For this purpose special packages are prepared containing the entire equipment for the first year of the new arrival's life, and every destitute mother in Belgium is entitled to this service. The children generally are the objects of solicitous attention, for their power of resistance if underclad is much below that of adults.
The total expenditure of the central establishment to 31st March 1917, was $9,625,431.21. This does not, of course, include the value of all the clothing distributed to the destitute throughout Belgium, since it covers only the operations of the Central Clothing Establishment. The large cities and towns in Belgium all contain their own workrooms, and it is probable that it will be found, when time can be applied to the study of the matter, that the operations of these subsidiary establishments have also been on a very considerable scale.
Temporary shelter.---The widespread home destruction during the invasion produced a large body of homeless classes, the poorer members of which, owing to the economic stagnation, have been unable to make any effort toward home restoration. The result has been that considerable numbers were initially forced into open fields or cow-sheds, or overcrowded in the remainder of the undestroyed villages or the larger centers. Therefore, one of the earliest activities of the Communal Charity Committees in those localities where destruction has been considerable was the provision of some temporary shelter. The communal committees, as usual, have been allowed a great deal of autonomy in the methods by which they accomplish the end. In certain provinces the committees have supplied tarred felt, glass, and other temporary building materials, have stimulated the repair of buildings the ruins of which could be utilized with the least construction, etc. Advances in the shape of loans have been made to householders with which to engage labor and, in certain districts, rows of barracks, etc., have been erected. Subventions made from the Relief Organization have amounted to $539,419.30 although as in other features of relief this does not represent the total expenditure, but only the addition of the Relief Organization to the funds recruited from all sources by the communal, regional, or provincial committees or local municipal authorities, it being at present impossible to determine the grand totals expended.
PUBLIC CHARITY DISTRIBUTION THROUGH SPECIAL COMMITTEES(475)
As relief necessities have developed, it has been found of crucial importance not only that the established pre-war institutions be supported but also that special organizations be created to deal with specific problems. Many organizations have sprung up through individual and mutual effort among the Belgians since the outbreak of war, and many have been initiated by the central administration, all intent upon the solution of particular and special difficulties that have arisen. As before stated, it has been the policy of the central administration at all times to support all worthy, well-conducted efforts of the kind, and subventions have been used as a means to maintain efficient administration and prevent overlapping of their manifold activities. There is no particular uniformity of organization or method in these special arrangements. Some of the committees have been set up simply for the purpose of securing effective co-ordination among already existing organizations in a position to deal with the problems arising. Others have been set up directly to effect the object aimed at; for instance, the financial relief of special classes and professions, as a consequence of which the individuals concerned have been considerately removed from direct dependence on the communal and other distribution agencies. The problem in Belgium is the practical one of maintaining the population in life and health during a sustained emergency. This can be accomplished only by utilizing, in large measure, the volunteer services of thousands of self-denying citizens, and in such circumstances rigid systematization and exacting discipline is not permissible. All the special committees recruit support from public benevolence in Belgium, and practically all have some income outside the subventions of the Relief Organization. Some committees have independent income from foreign sources, although specialized appeals abroad have been strongly discouraged by the Commission as tending to confuse and minimize its more vitally important campaign of balanced and orderly solicitation as well as to interfere with its authoritative position in Belgium. The following paragraphs treat of the principal special committees and pre-war institutions which have received subventions from public subscriptions.
Children.---From the start, the children have been the object of universal solicitude and have received care and sustenance throng a multitude of organizations, embracing not only the communal and special committees of the Relief Organization, but also the many already established children's institutions of the country. In order better to co-ordinate all effort and to insure that the entire field would be effectually covered, a special committee was organized in February 1915, devoted to child problems exclusively, under the title of "Aide et Protection Aux uvres de l'Enfance." The object of this section is not so much to intervene directly in special case as to control, stimulate, and assist the multitude of existing institutions organized in Belgium on behalf of the children. In July 1916, the feeding of children was placed in the hands of another committee.
Belgium has approximately 2,250,000 children under 16 years of age, of whom, in round numbers, 600,000 belong to poor families. In normal times the majority of these children are maintained by their parents, although even then a considerable proportion are dependent upon charity. As a result of the war, the proportion of children dependent upon charity has, directly or indirectly, greatly increased.
There are, throughout the whole of Belgium, more than 600 orphanages, caring for from 50 to 400 charges each, or a total of over 135,000 children, even in normal times. Due directly to war causes, some 11,000 additional orphans have been brought into being, and through family disorganization a further 20,000 absolutely homeless children have been turned adrift. There are thus not only the prewar orphans to be cared for, but also a very serious accretion of war orphans to be dealt with.
The Belgians have felt strongly not only that these children were their own particular charge, but that they should be preserved to Belgium; therefore they have consistently discouraged all suggestions to take them abroad, no matter how tender and attractive have been the many proposals made.
The pre-war public institutions, supported in normal times by subsidies from public authorities, by gifts and by revenue from charitable foundations, have found themselves with reduced incomes in face of much enlarged demands, and have, needless to say, received most sympathetic help from the Relief Organization. But since the pre-war institutions were overtaxed, the orphans and homeless children due to war causes have called for special care, and it has been necessary to make special provisions in their behalf. The reduction or total loss of income among the poorer social strata has borne hardly upon the children, and, therefore, measures have had to be taken to guarantee proper sustenance and care for many children still in charge of their parents.
Thus the assistance to children has taken two principal directions:
a) The direct feeding of the children of the poor through special canteens under special committees, through arrangements made by the communal committees, or through the schools, supplemented generally by medical superintendence, advice to mothers, etc.
b) The support of institutions for orphans and the homeless.
At the outbreak of the war several institutions were already in the field, including "Les Petites Abeilles," "Goutte de Lait," "Abri Maternel," "Institut pour Consultations aux Nourrissons," and others. All have expanded their efforts to meet new emergencies. The following three institutions are the main agencies for the care and relief of children:
1. The Children's Canteen, known as the "Soupe Scolaire."
2. Canteens for weakly children ("Enfants Débiles").
3. Baby Canteens ("Goutte de Lait") for the infants of the poor.
The school-children's canteen (Soupe Scolaire) is organized throughout the country for boys and girls from three to fourteen. Practically every school in Belgium is now associated with a children's canteen, the school buildings themselves often being used as the serving stations. The children (in contrast to the method of the "Soupe Scolaire," where the soup is taken home) eat their meal at the canteen. The diet is more substantial generally than that of the Soupe Scolaire, consisting of soup with a slice of bread, often followed by rice, potatoes, or some other vegetable dish. Inasmuch as children can benefit both from General and School Canteens, it will be seen that sound measures have been taken for the protection of juvenile health. At the present time half a million children attend the School Canteens. The expense of the meal given is borne in part by the central organization of the Comité National and partly by local subscription. The former allows a subsidy of eight centimes per ration, provided that at least four centimes is raised locally. The cost of the children's meal runs about 20 centimes, and is furnished entirely free to all the children of the poor.
For weakly children (enfants débiles) special canteens have been established. Here a nourishing and general diet consisting of such native rarities as meat, eggs, and milk is provided.
Infants under three years are taken care of by the Local Committee of the "Goutte de Lait" ("Drop of Milk"), which exists in practically every important town and village. Babies of poor mothers are furnished with fresh, pure milk daily free of charge. In these canteens parents are required to bring their children for periodical medical inspection, in order that the food may be prepared suitable to the different stages of the babies' progress. This organization, one of the most useful and important in Belgium, receives heavy subsidies from the Comité National. With the "Goutte de Lait" is also associated the work of aiding mothers without means. Pregnant mothers and those nursing babies are the object of special attention, and receive without charge a wholesome, sustaining food diet.
Of all the work carried on in Belgium, that for the children is perhaps the most interesting. If any one of the thousands of donors throughout the world who so generously gave to the special fund last year for School Canteens could have had the opportunity to take a glance at one of the canteens in operation, he would have known his gift many times requited. On the closing of school at 4 o'clock, the small boys and girls form in line and march to the nearest canteen (as in one of the six canteens at Tournai, for instance). In one end of the room the 200 little girls take their place at long tables; an equal number of boys jubilantly make a rush for their places at the other end. Each table is decked with an America flag. The flags of the Allies cover the walls of the room. In one corner two industrious, good-natured cooks are stirring immense cauldrons of soup and rice, each holding 400 quarts, or enough for two shifts of children of 400 each. Young lady volunteers (there are thousands of them engaged in every sort of charitable work in Belgium), gowned in white, at a given signal, when the children are all ready, start busily serving the soup. There is no limit placed on the quantity---one, two, or three bowls, according to the appetite of the partaker, as this in many cases is the only "square meal" the children have during the day. Then follows the rice, and exceptionally on this one day, there is brown sugar to go with it. From the welcome shout that goes up, it is evident that sugar in Belgium, as elsewhere, is a much appreciated rarity. At the end of half an hour, 400 little girls and boys troop out and go to their own homes, where in many cases the kitchen larder is practically empty. A twopence or four cents given by some thoughtful person in England or America, however, has provided, for all, the meal which will keep them strong and safeguard their health in supplementing the scant home diet.
The war orphans and the children rendered homeless through family disorganization consequent on the war have been provided for in a multitude of ways. Aside from direct subsidies to established orphanages and indirect aid to orphans through the Bureaux de Bienfaisance, the Communal Charity Committees have made allowances to families which take in and provide for such children, the established orphanages have been assisted to extend the number of their charges, etc., until the war orphans and other homeless children have been temporarily settled in some manner. Clothing has had to be provided for the newly-born and for the destitute, and for this purpose special arrangements, already mentioned, exist in the Central Clothing Establishment.
Up to the 31st March, 1917, the total subsidies of the organizations engaged in the relief and feeding of children were $2,541,183.59. This represents but a tithe of the total expenditure on children, for not only do other branches of the Commission care for children, but even their subsidies do not include the very large expenditure through the various agencies of this nature with which this general committee co-operates. Altogether, the work of the Belgian people on behalf of the children is so notable as to provide constant stimulation to the whole Relief Organization.
The Section Agricole.---So great was the pressure upon the provincial provisioning committees in distributing the necessities of life to the population, that there was danger, during the early months of the work, that the provision of fodder for all forms of livestock would be neglected, which would result not only in immediate suffering to the beasts themselves, but would ultimately jeopardize an important source of food for the people. There was therefore organized an agricultural section, composed of agricultural representatives and specialists from the various sections of the country, whose duty it was to control and distribute the large quantities of imported maize and its by-products to the farming population and owners of horses in the cities. As the provincial committees became organized, they took over this function from the Section Agricole, which, however, continued to advise the Relief Organization in all agricultural matters, and formed the nucleus of the Special Crop Committee when the central organization took over the native harvests of cereals in 1915, as also in 1916.
Up to the 31st March, 1917, there had been allotted to this section $333,198.81, chiefly for the purchase of seed and fodder for destitute peasants and for the reconstruction of farms and villages.
Lace-workers.---The economic paralysis following invasion was bound to hurt first the industries of luxury, and its disastrous effects made themselves soonest felt in the places where these industries constitute the principal activity, as in the lace-making districts.
This industry was taken in hand by two principal committees of Belgian women, the Union Patriotique des Femmes Belges and the Comité de la Dentelle, which set to work to organize the distribution of work to lace-makers. The Comité de la Dentelle especially looks after "real" lace, while the Union Patriotique des Femmes Belges takes care of "lacet" and imitation work. This industry, in that it requires a minimum of raw materials (which have been imported by the Commission for Relief in Belgium), lends itself to a system of deferred self-support, in accordance with which the lace committees, with the assistance of the Relief Organization, have arranged systematic advances to the lace-workers against their production.
Some lace has been exported, but in the main it is held for realization after the war; therefore, although the support of the workers requires a considerable present investment, it should be largely recoverable. The funds which otherwise would have been required to support these workers in unemployment are thus diverted to this end and on much the same allowances. By the extension of this system some 40,000 lace-workers, who formerly figured in the lists of unemployed, have been made self-supporting, and upon realization of the lace some further remuneration to the workers may be available.
Subcommittees have been constituted in the following lace centers: --- Alost, Antwerp, Audernarde, Beernem, Bruges, Courtrai, Eecloo, Gand, Herzele, Grammont, Lokeren, Louvain, Malines, Marche, Namur, Ninove, Saint-Nicolas, Sotteghem, Termonde, Thielt, and Turnhout. These subcommittees have the duty of grouping under their direction the lace-workers over sixteen years of age---unemployed and necessitous---living in their area, and of serving as intermediaries between the factories and the workwomen to see that the latter receive at least each week the minimum allocation of three francs in exchange for thirty hours of work.
The control committees are comprised of persons perfectly acquainted with the lace industry, and among their functions is the control of patterns manufactured. Thus, while accomplishing a work of unification, the committees contribute to the amelioration of the national art of lace-making by supervising the choice of patterns and the perfection of the execution. The Comité de la Dentelle and the Union Patriotique des Femmes Belges also serve as central committees for the reception of lace and for perfecting the technical part of the organization.
Assistance has also been granted to enable the reopening of lace schools in a number of localities throughout Flanders and the province of Brabant. The laces manufactured in the apprentice schools remain the property of the Relief Organization. They represent a commercial value greater than the salaries paid.
Much lace has been exported by the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Consignments for sale, representing a value of over 3,000,000 francs, have been made up to the 31st March, 1917, to England and the United States.
The sum placed at the disposal of the lace committees up to the 31st March, 1917, less realization on sales was $322,692.59.
Assistance to refugees.---The displacement of population resulting from invasion created a large number of internal refugees. Generally speaking, these persons have now settled down in one place or another or have fallen under various branches of relief. At first they were largely cared for by the communal authorities and the relief, canteens, but in order to relieve the overtaxed resources of these organizations and to obtain a more permanent solution the above committee was formed. It has for its chief objects: (a) to determine the best solution for special refugee problems; (b) to give temporary assistance when necessary; (c) to secure local shelter for those not provided for otherwise.
The refugees are mainly cared for out of other funds, the function of the committee being to secure their proper classification and substantiate their right to such funds. A number of refugees have been settled in various parts of the country and twenty general shelters have been erected. Some of these establishments are for special, purposes, such as maternity homes.
The total subventions of the Relief Organization to this committee amount to $480,777.44.
Refugees from Northern France.---In addition to the internal refugees mentioned above (persons obliged to go in search of shelter from one part of Belgium to another), the Commission has had to face a new problem this spring in the handling of French refugees. The German retreat in March caused the evacuation of great numbers (125,000 up to May 1st) of civilians from France into Belgium. The refugees are quartered by the Belgians in their homes, and receive their food from the local C.R.B. Provisioning Store. Unfortunately, the German authorities have placed them in large part in industrial regions, such as Charleroi and Mons, where native products of the soil are very rare. This has not only aggravated the difficult situation of the poorer Belgians in forcing up the price of native foodstuffs, but has also rendered more complicated the problem of relieving the French.
The refugees from France arrived with little notice. During the first weeks, and pending a definite arrangement, the Belgian Committees were furnished free food to give the French. All Belgian institutions, such as the canteens, medical assistance, etc., have been extended to them. An arrangement has now been concluded whereby the refugees are to receive the same charity allowance in Belgium as they formerly did in France, this assistance to be furnished out of the French funds of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.
Assistance to destitute foreigners.---There were a large number of foreigners residing in Belgium at the outbreak of war, who participated in the general distress due to economic stagnation. Moreover, the internment of resident breadwinners of belligerent nationalities resulted in difficulty in many families. A committee was organized to look after these people without regard to nationality. This committee procures them tickets on the canteens, makes advances in the way of loans, and resorts to other methods of support.
Special subcommittees have been organized to take care of French, Russian, and British subjects, including in their membership persons of these nationalities, and finding support partly in public charity and partly through subventions from the Relief Organization. The total advances to the 31st March, 1917, amount to $510,991.47.
Assistance to doctors and pharmacists.---This very active committee, "Secours aux Médecins et Pharmaciens Belges Sinistrés," was founded in January 1915, to accord assistance to doctors and pharmacists who have suffered during the war. It maintains branches in each of the provinces.
A peculiar hardship to doctors and pharmacists lies in the fact that the destitution of the people prevents them from making current payments for medical service, and the doctors must therefore be otherwise maintained in order that the population in general may be cared for. This committee has opened relations, through the Commission for Relief in Belgium, with the British Fund for Belgian Physicians and with the American Fund for Belgian Physicians. These two foreign organizations have contributed largely not only in funds but in medical supplies, instruments, and alimentary products for the sick. The better-to-do doctors and other members of the Belgian community have also contributed largely to this committee, and the actual subventions given by the Relief Organization, $442,636.06, have formed but a part of its resources.
Assistance to artists.---This section of the community, as with all professions dependent upon luxury, has been peculiarly hard hit by the war. A committee was organized in January 1915, with a special mission to take care of necessitous members. A definite system of monthly assistance was established on the basis of 30 francs per month to married men with families, 20 francs to married men without families, and 15 francs to bachelors. These allowances take the form of loans, and upward of 3,000 artists and families of artists have been helped. The total subvention from the Relief Organization to the end of October amounts to $312,638.54.
Assistance to the dispossessed.---A committee was originally organized by the Brussels bar for the legal protection of families rendered homeless by failure to meet their rent engagements. It has now embraced a wider field, and interests itself not only in legal protection, but in obtaining concessions from landlords, credit, reductions in rent, exemption from taxes, rates, and lighting, as well as numerous other concessions, especially for the middle-class destitute. In the first year alone of its work over 12,000 cases were examined, a large number of concessions secured, and actual shelter provided for many who would otherwise have suffered. This committee, like all others, has its own resources from public charity, but subventions have been added by the Relief Organization amounting to $108,626.42.
Assistance to Belgian soldier and civilian prisoners of war.---This Committee has undertaken to secure information and transmit brief correspondence to and from prisoners of war and civilians interned abroad and to remit money and parcels to such prisoners. Upward of thirty branches have been established throughout the country and have been recognized by the German General Government. Something over 1,300,000 requests for information have been received, and 60,000 small remittances and over 800,000 parcels have been transmitted. Subventions have been given to this organization as well as to three other committees engaged in somewhat similar work in connection with Belgian prisoners, the total to all these committees being $75,358.41.
Belgian National League against Tuberculosis.---This old established institution has numerous dispensaries and open-air cure institutions throughout the country. Owing to the stagnation produced by the war it has been greatly in need of assistance to carry on its beneficent work. Furthermore, the demand for its services has greatly increased because of the extension of tuberculosis in Belgium, particularly during the past year. A network of dispensaries is in operation throughout the country. All persons examined at these dispensaries, and showing symptoms of the disease, are provided with special cards which permit them to have important supplementary rations of food at the Provisioning Committee Stores.
Great care is taken to protect children from contracting tuberculosis. Those of poor families where parents are stricken are placed in "homes," where they may receive good care and live under healthy conditions. Subventions to the amount of $304,079.72 have been given to this organization.
Restoration of damaged churches.---A committee was formed in December 1914, with the object of providing damaged churches with sufficient equipment to carry on public worship. Subventions to the amount of $40,212.49 have been given.
Fuel relief.---The winter 1916-17 was the coldest and most protracted known in Belgium for twenty-five years. The consequent suffering among the poor because of the scarcity and high price of coal was great. In order to alleviate this situation to a certain extent the central organization furnished funds to its subcommittees for the purpose of providing all poor families (who were going to the canteens) with 100 k. of coal per household and per month. The money furnished out of relief funds for this purpose amounted to $475,978.19.
Free supplementary rations.---As a part of the programme dealing with the giving of supplementary rations to those who frequent the "Soupe Populaire," the sum of $404,613.03 has been paid out of relief funds up to the present time for this purpose.
Distribution to Belgians outside the occupation area.---A certain amount of clothing has been set aside from time to time for distribution to Belgian refugees in Holland, in France, and the unoccupied portion of Belgium. Some provisions, chiefly flour and condensed milk, have from time to time been contributed to the destitute Belgian civilian population outside the occupation area. The total value of these gifts-clothing and provisions-is estimated at $1,304,462.92.
Sundry subventions.---Subventions have been granted to a number of other committees and institutions to assist them in their work at one time or another. They embrace Cardinal Mercier's Fund for Distressed Clergymen, $76,774.20; the Economic Restaurants, which have already been mentioned, $96,236.22; clothing workrooms for the destitute in the city of Antwerp, $248,228.35; a committee formed to assist destitute young mothers, $12,984.26; gifts of foodstuffs given directly to certain municipalities by the donors, which have been carried through the relief books and appear among the receipts and pro et contra among gifts, amounting to $57,172.06; financial aid, $126,045.09; assistance to wives of officers and non-commissioned officers, $61,675.20; also other minor subventions for various purposes to over twenty-five different organizations, amounting to $130,129.87.
RELIEF AND FINANCIAL MEASURES CONDUCTED WITH BELGIAN GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES
Economic and financial relief measures, as well as charity, made possible by government subsidies are conducted through the Communal Charity Committees under the following groups:
Families deprived of their breadwinners by the war.---Among the numerous classes of the Belgian population to whom differentiated assistance is now extended are those families which the war has deprived of their breadwinners. This amounts practically to the war separation allowance paid by European Governments generally, although the field covered is, for benevolent reasons, widened to cover rather broader ground than is usual in such measures. The process of selection of these families was not a matter of extraordinary difficulty: the lists of those who had joined the colors, or who had fallen in the invasion, or had become mutilated or wounded, were obtainable. A general difficulty, common to all classes, lay in assigning the amount of assistance to be extended, in view of the number of cases, the general condition of living, and the disposable funds. For instance, one difficulty lay in determining the allowance to be made in view of the various kinds of families to be assisted. Several categories of these were determined, as illustrative of which and of the allowances made, the following examples are probably sufficient: In the case of a family consisting of wife and children, the wife gets 75 centimes per diem and each child 25 centimes; if the soldier is a widower or divorcé with children, the custodian of the children gets 50 centimes per diem for each child. In the case of illegitimate children recognized by the father, the custodian gets 50 centimes a day for each child up to the third, the third and succeeding children being allowed 25 centimes.
The distribution of this form of assistance is the easiest of the six great sections of communal charity, for several reasons. As stated above, the lists of those entitled to the allowance were made up without great difficulty. Furthermore the lists were fairly permanent, not undergoing the weekly changes of the other sections.
The average number of persons receiving relief in various provinces on the 31st March, 1917, was 3,032,089 individuals, and the total expenditure to this date was $37,429,862.45.
Supplementary allowances to destitute.---The large proportion of destitution due to unemployment, and the insufficiency of the Committee's imported food ration, including canteen food, led to the organization of a special effort to deal directly with this problem. Moreover, the ease with which the position of workers could be determined, through employers and trade-unions, pointed them out for special selection and separate organization. Prior to the creation of this special division such persons were dependent upon the public canteens and, as pointed out above, their shrinking resources either required expansion of the canteen activities, or, alternately, the provision of supplemental or substituted support.
To give a definite meaning to the term "unemployment," and to adapt this meaning to such a scale as is necessary in distributing aid and assistance to a nation at large, are matters of very great complication and difficulty. Questions arise as to the distinction of partial from total unemployment, and even as to the constitution of unemployment itself; for instance, is a man who is not earning wages, but spending his time working in his garden, to be classed as unemployed? It was, however, a condition, and not an economic theory, with which Belgium had to do, and the solution of the problem was, necessarily, wholly practical. In the first place, it was determine that the term, "unemployed," was to be limited to workmen, artisans, or employees in trades, industries, and public utilities; that is, practically skilled workers, a class whose normal positions are more or less fixed in large industries, and whose individual condition is easily determinable through employers and trade-unions. Excluded from this class, consequently, were agricultural laborers, domestic servants or domiciliary workers, such as washerwomen or seamstresses, and, of course, employers of all kinds, large or small, whether tenants or proprietors. All of these and many other unattached classes, such as pedlars, and messengers of the body economic, together with the representatives of the learned or artistic professions, were assisted when necessary either from the general assistance fund, or from special committees created to deal with particular problems.
Excluded absolutely from assistance are workmen owning house dogs (chiens de luxe), or ten carrier pigeons, or fighting-cocks; workmen, any members of whose families frequent archery matches or places of amusement like cinematographs; workmen who gamble or drink to excess, or refuse to work according to the extent of their powers. The workman out of employment who maintains a cabaret is also excluded. The basis of this Index Expurgatorius, most of which has now ceased to have reason for existence, is perhaps more moral than economic, though the possession of carrier pigeons and the frequenting of archery contests would hardly seem to be demoralizing practices. The list, however, indicates some of the economic and moral problems of Belgium. A big dog would eat as much as a small child, and a large idle dog is, therefore, a luxury in Belgium today, but the big working dog is a necessity for the poor classes in Belgium, as, for example, for the delivery of milk. The matching of carrier pigeons, and the betting on them, had run to extreme heights in Belgium, and the betting on cock-fights and archery contests had also become excessive.
The edict against the sale of spirituous drinks affected a large number of the population, for in Belgium the number of drinking places is greater than in any civilized country of the world---one for every thirty-five inhabitants approximately. On the other hand, the Belgian estaminet is in no way to be confused with the American saloon. It is generally only a room set aside for the serving of beer and coffee in homes situated along well-traveled roads. It is rarely a "haunt of vice," but rather a resting-place or sociable meeting center for friends within the community. The profits of many of these places are extremely small, frequently not more than five or. six francs a week. In many cases they represent the effort of a hardworking artisan, or thrifty tenant, to make both ends meet.
But while this measure narrowed the extent of the term "unemployment," the question of determining its meaning still remained. The problem was settled, not through computation of hours or kind of work, but on the basis of need or want, which is the fundamental social, if not the logical, import of the term. It was determined that a workman whose income from any source---wages, property, investments, pensions---did not amount to a certain sum (during 1916, four francs a week), was in a state of want or need, and was, therefore, entitled to assistance. To prevent the idle or the thriftless from taking advantage of the situation, it was determined that only those who could show certificates of employment for at least fifteen days of June and July, 1914, should be entitled to assistance, taking into account, of course, those cases where the state of unemployment at that time could be shown to be involuntary.
Granting then that the financial status of an unemployed laborer or artisan has been satisfactorily determined, he is, in the simplest case of complete unemployment and no resources, entitled to the following:
|Head of household||
3 francs per week
|Housekeeper (usually wife)||
1.50 francs per week
|Children under 16||
50 centimes per week
|Children over 16, formerly employed or at school||
3 francs per week
According to the plan adopted in the various regions, the actual income is delivered in cash, or in "bons," that is, orders for a ration at the communal Provisioning Committee or upon accredited tradesmen for native supplies; or a portion may be made by tickets on the canteens. The money payment then enables a person to buy the native foodstuffs necessary to complete the insufficient C.R.B. ration.
The question at once arises as to whether body and soul can be kept together upon the foregoing allowance, and it is of interest to compare it with the pre-war cost of living in Belgium. Rowntree's calculations (Land and Labour in Belgium), based on the investigation of 57 communes (probably in 1909), show that, even under normal conditions, the minimum sum with which the food necessary to maintain the physical forces in a satisfactory condition can be purchased in Belgium is:
3.25 francs per week
2.60 francs per week
1.75 francs per week
This table would indicate that the allowances above would be insufficient, even in peace times, to maintain a family in strength and health; and under present conditions of 200 to 500 per cent increase in prices, it is assuredly highly inadequate. In fact, the town of Charleroi, with its small charitable endowment in a large population of workmen, found a long time ago that it was necessary to raise the critical point of need from 4 to 5 francs. Somehow or other, either by direct charity or through employment, at least the 5 francs a week must be got to maintain life, if not full strength. In many districts this supplement is found in the fund for general assistance, in which case, if in an urban district, the additional help takes the form of a ticket on canteens either partly or wholly gratuitous.
In view of the increasingly difficult situation during the past winter, and dearness of native foodstuffs, the central organization has recently granted an additional allowance of 2.50 francs per month to each person completely depending on public assistance. This was done to replace the supplementary uncooked food rations of those going to the "Soupes," which, unfortunately, the Commission has not been able to furnish, due to diminished importations. In addition to this aid in food and money, the central organization also provides free medical assistance to families of soldiers and officers, as well as to all those of the needy class. This help is particularly essential at the present time when health conditions are failing, due to an insufficient diet for the people.
Besides those wholly without employment, a second category exists of the partially unemployed, and the problem of the just allotment of assistance to these cases is the most difficult of all the perplexing questions faced by the Communal Charity Committees, and is the one which calls for the greatest amount of caution, inspection, and control. Under the conditions of work existing in the zone of occupation, almost all kinds of employment were exceedingly precarious as well as scanty. A workman might be employed the whole of one week and be idle the next, or he might work the whole or part of one day, or the whole or part of several days of the week; and it was the duty of the Communal Charity Committee concerned, to ascertain each week, or perhaps several times a week, the amount of wages the workman had received, before the amount of assistance he was entitled to was determined under the rulings adopted by the Relief Organization.
The Relief Organization, in order to stimulate labor, exempted five francs of wages from the deductions applied to the benefit of applicants for assistance. In other words, a worker is considered unemployed so long as his income does not exceed five francs a week, as the "premium on work." If above that amount, then a series of deductions come into play. The complexity of this problem is indicated by the following reproduction of the valuations in daily income of certain types of property, and consequently their deducible value from the allowance:
1. House, 0 to 4 francs per week, according to value; owners of houses above 7,000 francs excluded. Owner can get through mortgage enough to cover theoretical need.
2. Land, 50 centimes per week per 10 ares (about 0.25 acre).
3. Cows, 50 centimes per day.
4. Hogs, 25 centimes per day.
5. Calves, 25 centimes per day.
6. Heifers, 25 centimes per day.
7. Hens, .02 centimes per day.
8. Savings books-weekly tax of 50 per cent for face value above 500 francs.
II. Public assistance
1. Bureau de Bienfaisance---amount granted.
2. Old-age pensions---amount granted.
III. Private assistance
1. Accident pensions---amount granted.
2. Pension of benevolent society---amount granted.
The "theoretical need" of a family of five would be 20 francs per week. If such a family had 2 cows, a house (in the 2-franc class), 4 acres of land, and received 75 centimes per week from the Bureau de Bienfaisance, it would receive nothing from the General Assistance Fund. The family or individual condition was determined at regular intervals. In fixing house-value the Hainaut Commission took the amount of fire insurance and deducted 25 per cent.
Each receiver of relief is furnished with an identity card, upon which such relief as may be granted him must be mentioned. Any changes that may happen to the unemployed person's position, and his family, are also specified. This card must be produced on any request made by the delegates of any of the committee. Payment is made at least once fortnightly, and the unemployed person must call personally, furnished with the identity card.
The numbers receiving assistance in this branch are difficult of accurate determination, owing to all the variables of partial employment and irregularity of need. The original lists prepared in April, 1915, showed 646,199 necessitous unemployed, skilled workers of both sexes, with 227,096 dependent adults, and 474,627 dependent children under 16, a total of 1,347,922 persons. In May the lists had increased to 741,494 necessitous workers, 255,370 dependent adults, and 558,722 dependent children, a total of 1,555,586. In midsummer the lists had further increased to 764,222 necessitous workers, 269,380 dependent adults and 630,998 children, a total of 1,664,600. This represents the high-water mark. The numbers fluctuate with seasonal employment, and various measures have been taken to reduce the lists by eliminations, establishments of adults and children on to other funds, and, in the case of 40,000 lace-workers, to put them in a position of self-support, and thus reduce the ultimate burden on this division. The result of all these measures has been to reduce the totals by February, 1916, to 685,849 necessitous skilled workers, 318,149 dependent adults and 503,678 dependent children, or a total of 1,507,676. The latest available figures (September, 1916) give the numbers respectively as 701,451, 304,015, 634,144, or a total of 1,639,610. This latter figure shows the trend of increasingly difficult conditions, and the growing lack of employment during 1916. These numbers, however, cannot be taken as absolute, since some communes do not return the number of those who receive partial assistance in their lists. In any event, these figures comprise over 40 per cent of the total skilled labor in Belgium.
The expenditure upon this division from its initiation in February, 1915, to the 31st March 1917, was $49,678,781.07.
The labor question in Belgium.---A question may arise in the reader's mind---has the aid which is being given to the unemployed had a tendency toward creating a desire for idleness? The Committee's allowance has been fixed at such a low figure that only by rarest exception would a man be satisfied to live on the scant subsistence which it affords. Furthermore, for every position in Belgium there are three men anxious and willing to fill the place. For this reason it has always been a great concern to the Commission and to the central Belgian organization to provide work for the great mass of the unemployed. If profitable employment could be created the people could live better, would be independent of public assistance, and would conserve thus their self-respect and their former habits of thrift and industry. This has been a most perplexing problem, a solution of which has not been found up to the present time.
In the early months of her occupation of Belgium, Germany requisitioned the larger part of all raw materials in the country. Manufacturing was therefore greatly reduced. The Allied Governments refused to replace this requisitioned material by permitting new importations of iron, copper, cotton, etc., into Belgium, which step they felt would only serve to lengthen the war by adding to Germany's economic resources, except on one express condition, that the raw material imported into Belgium be re-exported in toto, and that the money so realized be deposited in England until the end of the war. The financial and monetary systems of Belgium and Germany are so closely bound up, that Belgian exports and the return flow of money into the country would serve in bracing Germany's exchange on foreign markets. Furthermore, the building up of funds in Belgium would permit the occupying authorities to bleed the country and towns of even greater sums than those demanded at present. The Belgian Government at Havre and her Allies, rather than offer such aid to Germany, preferred to pay any amount in charity to support the inhabitants of Belgium. Germany acquiesced to the re-exportation of the finished products from raw materials, but insisted that the revenue from this source be deposited in Belgium. As a result the plan(476) fell through.
The Commission through its representatives has tried on different occasions to revive special industries. As a typical case, last winter in Hainaut the representative at Mons made efforts to re-establish the manufacture of simile-marble at Basècles. This town, of 4,500 inhabitants, practically lived from this trade before the war, making large exports to America. After two years of conflict the population had fallen into a lamentable condition of need through lack of employment. Happily, the Commission was able to secure permission from the Allies to export the marble pieces which were to have been shipped to America in returning empty C.R.B. ships. The plan was held up, however, by the Germans, who claimed a shortage of transportation facilities for the shipment of the necessary lime from Northern France into Belgium.
The insolvable complications which thus arise each time have effectively blocked all projects of exportation from Belgium. Within the country itself, therefore, the only work to be created is that of making public improvements and of building roads. Men placed at this work, however, would require more than their 40 centimes assistance per day. Large additional sums of money for the maintenance of such undertakings would be required, and up to the present time it has not been possible to finance Belgium for more than the bare living needs of her inhabitants' demand. The question might be raised: Why not make each man who received his 3 francs per week do at least a day's or half-day's work in seven on roads as a return for this grant? In the first place, road construction is precluded in many districts because of lack of materials, and inability to secure same by the ordinary means of transportation. In the second place, work of this kind, done by a large number of men each working only a portion of the week, would be difficult of efficient organization. Its possibility, however---even its advisability is not to be denied.
In spite of adversity, many towns and regions have attempted to afford regular employment to their workingmen at living wages by the construction and repair of roads. Practically all such work, however, was stopped last fall by the occupying authorities, who asserted that the municipalities were thus employing their able-bodied men so that the latter might not be requisitioned for German service. As soon as the men were forced into idleness, Germany has tried by force, with considerable lack of success up to the present time, to incorporate them into her industrial army.(477)
In brief, then, it will be seen that the labor question in Belgium is one of extreme complexity, which from day to day is growing farther from, rather than nearer to its solution.
Bureaux de Bienfaisance.---These institutions, established in each commune, have the care in normal times of all classes of poverty not otherwise looked after. Consequently they perform, in very large measure, either singly or in combination, the duty of providing for the insane, weak-minded, orphans, infirm, etc. Their resources are obtained not only by receipts from charity and private endowment, but also by communal taxation and by subventions from what is known as the "Common Fund." Through this latter fund the load is more or less equalized between the richer and the poorer communes, it being contributed to by all the communes in each province and also receiving a proportional subvention from the National Government. As the subventions of the National Government ceased with the outbreak of war, the Bureaux de Bienfaisance were then plunged into financial difficulties, and the central organization had to come to their assistance. This has been done by means of advances to the "Common Fund" equal to those normally contributed by the National Government. These advances up to the 31st March 1917, amounted to $1,122,510.96.
It is difficult, under the present circumstances, to determine the number of individuals supported by these official bureaux. The destitute, insane, infirm, aged, orphans, etc., in normal times, aggregate probably 300,000 persons, but the probable tendency of war relief has been to decrease their burden, especially because of the substituted provision for the unemployed. On the other hand, the normal flow of local charity has been toward the war relief organizations, and their resources are thus curtailed.
Advances to educational institutions.---To a considerable extent the educational system of Belgium is, in normal times, in receipt of subsidies from the National Government in addition to the resources from local taxation and private endowment. The suspension of the National Government subsidies threatened not only the public schools but also a number of other institutions with closure or restriction of activities, and it was, therefore, determined to make advances in such amounts as would tide them over; up to the 31st March 1917, a total of $2,009,821.69 had been so advanced by the central organization.
Assistance to officers' families.---This committee was formed to provide assistance to the families of army officers and non-commissioned officers deprived of their support through the war. The families thus assisted embrace not only those of regular soldiers, but also those of the gendarmes and the civilian militia, whether deceased or absent on military duty. This committee maintains its head office in Brussels, and has subcommittees in the principal localities which forward all information and requests to the central office for action. The allowances are based on the actual need of the families. The total number of such families averages about 3,500, and the total allowance up to the 31st March, 1917, was $1,674,053.89.
Assistance to children and to war orphans in charitable institutions.---In order to provide for the care of war orphans and to subsidize the important work being done for destitute children in Belgium, grants totaling $213,953.90 have been made.
Co-operative loan society.---This society, entitled the Société Coopérative d'Avances et de Prêts, was organized early in the work for the purpose of furnishing loans directly to individuals and to institutions of a public and semi-public character. All loans are made on security at the rate of 3 per cent per annum and are based not only on the amount of security, but on the needs of the borrower. Individual borrowers are required to set out a request in writing, accompanied with documentary evidence, which is at once investigated by the society. The process has been simplified in every manner possible in order that the service may be rapid and efficient. Loans to individuals are granted on all varieties of security, such as stocks and shares; income, payment of which has been suspended either through business stagnation or prohibition of the belligerent governments; deposits in suspended institutions; outstanding post-office money-orders; executable judgments; arrears of pensions; arrears of salary to civil service employees; life insurance policies; requisition receipts; land, property, and chattels; in short, all varieties of security and to all classes of the community in possession of tangible or intangible property rendered unrealizable by the war. Furthermore, loans are made to institutions such as orphan asylums, convents, private schools, etc. The total of the advances to the society by the central organization up to the end of March 1917 was $24,161,321.95. There can be no question of the beneficent work of this institution in stemming the distress of classes to whom such misfortune comes with peculiar poignancy.
National Savings Bank.---This institution, La Caisse d'Epargne, owing to the removal of its securities abroad prior to invasion, ultimately found itself unable to meet payment due to its depositors. Advances have, therefore, been made to the institution under the restriction that no payments are to be made to depositors beyond their minimum living necessities, and that such payments be made from month to month. A total of $3,246,062.98 has so far been advanced by the Relief Organization.
Building and loan institutions.---There exist a great number of institutions of this character throughout Belgium which have been largely engaged in the erection of workmen's houses. Many are faced with difficulty through default of their members, and, alternately, the members are faced with difficulties through the inability of the institutions to carry on their functions. There was, therefore, set up a mutual institution, entitled Auxiliaire des Sociétés d'Habitations Ouvrières, the capital of which was subscribed partly by public-spirited individuals and partly by some thirty different building and loan societies, the central organization in turn making substantial loans to the mutual society thus created. The new society did not at first deal with private individuals directly, but only through its component building and loan associations; latterly, some loans have been made to individuals who are not directly affiliated with the building and loan associations. The moneys provided by the central organization are advanced at the rate of 21 per cent, and are in turn reloaned by the associations at the same rate. The loans are used for the completion of partly constructed houses, for the repair of destroyed buildings, and for making monthly advances to building and loan society members in personal difficulties. The total advances on this account to the 31st March, 1917, were $508,660.97.
Advances to provincial governments.---Considerable sums of money were due to the provincial governments by the National Government at the time of the evacuation. These sums were in turn due to the communes, and were necessary to enable them to maintain their regular services, and especially to continue their subsidies to the Bureaux de Bienfaisance, and their contributions to the support of the bread line. In order to enable these obligations to be met the Relief Organization has advanced the sums which were thus due, amounting at the 31st March, 1917, to a total of $2,496,005.09.
Sundries.---Advances in the nature of relief loans have been made to various other institutions throughout the country, amounting to a total of $952,675.09. Expenses of General Committees have been incurred to the extent of $14,987.83.
Fig. 21. LETTER, 12 APRIL 1918, WHITLOCK TO HOOVER
3. Care of the Destitute in Northern France, 1915-1917
The occupied Provinces of Northern France comprise an area somewhat over half that of Belgium, and have a normal population of about 3,000,000 people. Owing to mobilization, flight, and other causes, the civil population on the 1st January of this year had been reduced to approximately 2,150,000 individuals. A special incidence of this reduction of population is the extraction of the able-bodied men and consequent large preponderance of women, children, and aged in the population. Recent changes in the front have further reduced its population to 2,000,000, large numbers of French refugees having been evacuated into Belgium.
Over one-half of this population is concentrated in the intensely developed industrial districts in the neighborhood of Lille and Valenciennes, which comprise less than one-eighth of the total occupied area and even now have a population of over 1,000 per square mile. The other half of the population is largely agricultural in character and averages at present about 145 per square mile.
Army Zone.---This area lies completely within the zone of active operations of the German army. The population is entirely interdicted from movement, there is no post or telegraph nor communication of any character; the whole transportation machinery is devoted to military activities. Except for some trivial commodities brought from Holland, there are no imports except relief supplies and no exports whatever. In consequence, the whole of the great industrial population is reduced to total unemployment.
The agricultural activity is greatly reduced, due to the mobilization of the men, the great shortage of draft cattle, fertilizers, and other necessaries. The gradual exhaustion of stocks contained in the mercantile establishments throughout the country has in the end resulted in empty shelves and closed doors, so that the "small commerce" of the country has now come practically to a standstill.
All banking operations have ceased and all metallic money and standard currency have disappeared, the only medium of exchange being local notes issued by each commune and accepted only within the limits of each such commune. The imports of the Commission, confined as they are by transportation and purchase difficulties practically to cereals and fats alone, compose but the bare minimum necessity to support human existence. In the winter and spring of 1916 the meager local supplies of potatoes, vegetables, and meat were finally exhausted.
Extent of destitution.---It is obvious that there must be an enormous percentage of destitution, and, in fact, a discussion as to what proportion of the population is destitute becomes merely a definition of what constitutes destitution. Less than half the population have no means with which to pay for their ration, and this class depend very largely on loans made to them by the communal governments. To another class, food is advanced "on credit" until the end of the war. To the third class, all relief and food rations are given free. In the district of Charleville, one of the more agricultural and least destitute regions in Northern France, at the end of September, 1916, the three above-mentioned classes constituted respectively 48, 38, and 14 per cent of the population. In a word, either by loans from the communes, by food advances, or by gifts, practically the whole population is dependent.
Curiously enough, in these circumstances, the relief of destitution becomes a simpler problem than in Belgium. In Northern France the Relief Organization could not make any attempt to maintain the economic machinery of the country, or to organize effective measures of self-help by supplementing individual resources, as in the case of Belgium. In a broad way the whole area is an internment camp, and all the population is on a ration and to all present purposes is destitute. The entire organization is reduced to the simple problem of placing a ration, adapted so far as may be to local needs, justly in the hands of every man, woman, and child, and to provide a system of accounting by which at least some part of the cost may be recoverable after the war.
ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANIZATION OF THE RELIEF
The communes in Northern France have been grouped into six principal districts, each under a district committee. An American representative of the Commission is attached to each committee. These six district committees act under the instructions of and in coordination with the Commission for Relief's head office in Brussels. A central committee exists termed the Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France, but its functions except as an accounting agency are nominal. The district committees deal directly with the communal and municipal authorities, there being the 1st January 2,133 such communes. Since that time the number has been reduced to about 1,800.
Financial organization.---The imported foodstuffs are debited to the district committees. The district committees in turn debit the foodstuffs to the communes at a small advance sufficient to cover local expenses. At this point in the cycle an involved transaction is necessary owing to the practical disappearance of normal circulating medium from the country, and in order to provide for the subsequent recovery of some of the outlay on provisioning the population from those members of the community who have property and resources at present unrealizable.
Each commune prints its own notes from 5 centimes up to 50 francs, and this currency is being put into circulation by (a) payment for communal services; (b) loans to individuals against property; (c) benevolence to the destitute.
The ration provided by the Commission for Relief is then sold in return for this currency, and it serves as well to enable the holder to purchase such supplementary native foodstuffs as may still exist outside the imports of the Commission. Thus between the loans and benevolence the whole population is enabled to secure its food supply. The local money, therefore, amounts practically to a food ticket, and in last analysis is but a facile method of accounting. The communes enter into an obligation to pay for the foodstuffs delivered to them three months after peace, and the French Government makes advances to the Commission for Relief in Belgium against these obligations. Thus, after the war, the communes will be able to collect some portion of the loans which they have made to individuals, and will be able thus to pay some portion of the obligations which they in turn have taken to the institutions through the Commission for Relief. The whole arrangement is one which, so far as food supply is concerned, calls for no present public charity, but it is a situation which will yet demand the benevolence of the French people when the period of liquidation arrives.
General relief.---Public canteens ("Soupes Populaires") are organized here in many towns as in Belgium. The system, however, has not had such a wide application in the former territory because of the fact that in France all classes are more or less reduced to the same level of need.
Butter, milk, meat, and other foodstuffs are quite as unavailable to the well off and middle class as to the poor in Northern France, because of the fact that nearly all cattle have either been requisitioned by the German army or already consumed by the population. There is therefore not the same necessity of specializing in the aid of the poor which exists in Belgium, where the more well-to-do class can purchase native foodstuffs. The entire population in France , .save the farmers, is classed as "needy."
Baby canteens are established in a large number of communes, and furnish condensed milk where a supply of natural milk is not available.
Loan banks, similar to the institutions in Belgium, advance money to temporarily embarrassed persons whose credit is reliable. Monthly allocations in money are paid to the families of mobilized men or of French prisoners interned in Germany.
The foregoing arrangement provides a barely sufficient food supply, but is not available for clothing. For this the Commission has appealed to the charitable world in conjunction with the appeal for Belgium. A further amount of clothing has been purchased out of the small margin retained on foodstuffs from the debits of the regional committees. Of all clothing materials obtained by the Commission through benevolence, roughly one-third is sent to Northern France and two-thirds to Belgium. While the mathematical ratio would be about one-quarter and three-quarters, the more bitter necessities of the French people had determined this division. Work rooms for making up new materials and the revision and repairs of old clothing have been opened in each district.
4. After 1917 and Summary
After the spring of 1917, when the foregoing report was written, there was no fundamental change in the organization or methods of caring for the destitute until the Armistice.
Destitution in Belgium steadily increased with the passing months and in October 1918, of a total population of approximately 5,500,000 in the General Government Zone, 4,263,735 applied for and received assistance at the various institutions of relief.(478) The inevitable undernourishment, particularly during the period of the U-boat blockade, was reflected in an increase in sickness which filled the hospitals and required special measures. An extensive program of supplementary rations was formulated by the Commission but was limited in its fulfilment, as was the general program, by the difficulties of importation. The successful endeavors of the Commission in these years to provide special aid to children have been already described.
After the Armistice, during the winter of 1918-19, the benevolent operations of the Commission were continued and extended to new fields where necessary. Large stocks of food and clothing were poured into the previously occupied territories,(479) temporary housing was provided for the returning populations of the devastated regions, and special support was given to hospitals, children's clinics, and a general child health program.(480)
During the whole period of relief operations the total expenditure for the general benevolent program was $615,237,147.47. The following tables show how this sum was applied in the relief of destitution through the co-operating relief organizations-the Commission, the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation, the Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France (till 1918), the Comité Général de Ravitaillement des Régions Libérées, the Comité d'Assistance des Régions Libérées, and the various subsidiary provincial, communal, and special committees.
ANALYSIS OF BENEVOLENT EXPENDITURES BY COUNTRY, 1914-1919
I. Benevolent Account of the commission
|Gift Clothing In Belgium|
|Through Comité National||
|Provisions and Clothing to Belgian Refugees|
|Cash Donations to Sundry Funds|
|Belgian children at The Hague, evacuées, refugees,and supplementary donation to special funds, etc.||
|Brussels' Office Relief Fund||
|Educational Purposes (chap. xiii, Documents 527-532)||
|Allocations from Benevolent Account of Commission to Central Committees for Benevolence (distribution included below)||
|Direct Benevolent Expenditures by the Commission||
II. Benevolent Expenditure through Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation
|Canteens and Soup Kitchens||
|Aid to Families of Soldiers|
|Relief of families without support||
|Expert medical advice||
|Families of officers||
|Invalids and mutilated||
|Widows of soldiers||
|Children and war orphans||
|Aid to artists||
|Aid to foreigners||
|Assistance to dispossessed||
|Churches, Assistance Discrète, Journalists, National Commission of Arts and Letters, prisoners, etc||
|Subsidies to provinces for soup kitchens||
|Subsidies to provinces for providing shelter||
|Gifts of fuel||
|Relief to provinces||
|Aid to unemployed||
|Aid in the Form of Moral Guarantees|
|Building and loan institutions||
|Loans to foreigners||
|National Savings Bank||
|Provisions and Cash Donations to Special Committees: (Cardinal Mercier's fund, Belgian Bishop fund, workrooms, Brussels, Antwerp, etc., Bureaux de Bienfaisance, Belgian Red Cross, sick funds, apprentice studios, labor exchanges, assistance discrète, gifts of food to cities of Ghent, Ostend, etc.; gifts to various communes and many others)||
|Salaries, General Expenses, Interest||
|Total Benevolent Expenditure through Comité National||
|Total Benevolent Expenditure in Belgium||
I. Benevolent Account of Commission
|Gift Clothing in Northern France|
|Through Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France||
|Through Comité Général de Ravitaillement des Régions Libérées||
|Gift Clothing---To French refugees in Holland||
|Provisions and Clothing---Child welfare in Lille||
|Cash Donations to Sundry Funds|
|Lille Benevolent Fund||
|Refugees at Evian||
|Benevolence through Paris Office of Commission|
|Executive Committee, C.R.B. Benevolent Fund||
|French Red Cross for child welfare||
|Child welfare in Thoulis||
|Comité d'Assistance des Régions Libérées||
|Special Allocation for Benevolence|
|Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France:|
|Food, lodging, clothes, etc .||
|Overshoes, meat, etc .||
|Rice (reduction in selling price)||
|Special Allocation for Benevolence|
|Comité Général de Ravitaillement des Régions Libérées|
|Reduction of prices of provisions and clothing||
|Subsidy to maintain bread prices||
|Rebates to districts for benevolent expenditure||
|Supplementary food for children. Free distribution||
|French Refugees in Holland and elsewhere|
|Refugees and evacuées in Holland||
|French children in Holland||
|French prisoners of war in Holland||
|Miscellaneous relief, Havre, Lille, Evian, etc||
|Gifts to Northern France (see Chapter xiii, Documents 525 and 526)|
|To Comité Général de Ravitaillement des Régions Libérées||
|To American Relief Administration for Child Feeding in Northern France||
|Allocations from Benevolent Account of Commission to Central Committees for Benevolence (distribution included below)||
|Total for Northern France from Benevolent Account of Commission||
II. Benevolent Expenditure through Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France
|Assistance to French Citizens in Belgium|
|Coal and fuel||
|Children's aid societies||
|Interest allowed provincial committees||
|Assistance to Evacuées in Belgium|
|Interest allowed provincial committees||
|Subsidies to French Organizations|
|Benevolent Society in Maubeuge||
|Benevolent Society in Cousolre||
|Savings Bank, Givet, etc||
|Assistance In cash||
|Clothing and general expenses||
|Total Benevolence of Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France||
|Balance in Liquidation Distributed in Benevolence|
|Credits to districts||
|Aid to unemployed||
|Gifts of chocolate||
|Biscuits, clothing expenses, etc||
|Grand Total Expenditure through Comité d'Alimentation du Nord de la France||
|Total Benevolent Expenditures In Northern France||
I. Benevolent Account of the Commission
As a result of an appeal made in the United States by the Commission, there became available for distribution during the year 1918-19 over 15,000 tons of gift secondhand clothing. The requirements of the people of Belgium and of Northern France were met by the distribution of 10,000 tons throughout Belgium and 4,000 tons throughout Northern France. A quantity of 938 tons of secondhand clothing consisting of 2,130,813 garments and 114,883 pairs of shoes, valued at $2,067,687.95, was turned over to the American Relief Administration for distribution, principally in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
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