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they see, thirdly, that rate relief at best is a poor provision and a miserable substitute for comfort, liberty, and personal independence. For this reason the thrifty wage-earners make stupendous efforts to secure themselves against pauperism. Apart from what they save in actual money, they pay enormous sums of their own accord in insurances to provide them with support in time of sickness; and such exertions, considering the direct discouragement which our Poor-law system gives to independence, are beyond all praise. And yet multitudes of these men fail in their efforts at independence, and become paupers at the last, because the best they can purchase, even at the huge overcost to which they are willing to go, cannot, under present conditions, secure them absolutely against the possibility of destitution in sickness or old age.
And as to the small extent and huge and deplorable overcost of modern friendly societies' provision something must be said here, based upon Mr. Randell's eye-opening' article on Friendly Societies in the Fortnightly Review' for last August. It is quite impossible that any philanthropist, at all new to the subject, can read that remarkable and outspoken article without a shock.
I will not attempt to summarise it for my readers, but will give one or two statements from it which will speak for themselves.
Assuming, reasonably enough, that the societies which do send in returns to the Registrar of Friendly Societies are sounder than those which keep their accounts dark, we gather the following facts :The returns given by less than half in number of the friendly societies in England and Wales show an aggregate membership of four and a half million persons, with an average provision of only 2l. 78. 11d. per member. Of half this number of members, again, the average provision is only to be counted in shillings, namely, 168. 8d.-let us say roughly, one single week's wages! The aggregate membership of the six largest collecting societies amounts to 1,687,070, and their aggregate provision to 807,913l., only a fraction above 108. a member; and one of these, a life assurance and sick benefit society with 111,000 members, has only an aggregate fund of 7,000l., or about fifteen pence laid by for every member!
So much for the insufficiency of the provision made, I will not say by the best, but by the average friendly societies at the present time. It may be left to reasonable men to say whether any such amounts (which would be ridiculous were they not deplorable) can be called provision against pauperism at all, by way of proving a National Insurance to be a work of supererogation.
Now for the overcost of such small provision as these poor men are taught to think they are securing from month to month by such self-denial as they spontaneously exercise. The Registrar-General's Returns, as quoted by Mr. Randell, show that of twenty-seven collecting friendly societies, which received for the year 620,000l., the amount disbursed in benefits was only 283,694l., as against 245,5331. expended in management; that one of the largest collect
ing societies in England, according to its own reports, paid away in "expenses' 681,000l. (or over forty-eight per cent.) of its premium income of 1,407,000l.3 The same society informs its shareholders, as explanatory of the vast profits realised, that no less than forty-two per cent. of their industrial policies lapse altogether, on the average, in five years! A naïve announcement which, though it may be rare sport to shareholders who receive the profits, is utter death to the attempted providence of forty-two per cent. of the poor people who contribute and lose the premiums.
I will now proceed, first to illustrate and then to prove the statement I have been bold to make, that no such efforts as are now made by our working classes can, under present conditions, absolutely secure them against eventual pauperism as National Insurance would.
Some years ago I was travelling in a third-class carriage in the South of England. I was alone in my compartment, while the other one became nearly quite filled up at one of the stations where we stopped by a number of builders' men. One of these, who seemed not too sober, shortly began to utter a volley of the most horribly foul language. I called over to him in a quiet way: Neighbour, will you be kind enough to use language a little more decent? for yours is distressing for other people to hear.'
He turned round to tackle' his interlocutor, very indignant indeed that I should venture to take him to task; and his companions seemed to prick up their ears in an amused and sympathetic interest. I should like to know,' he said, 'what the whatty what business the likes of you has to find fault with the likes of me. I'm a free-born Englishman, and I'll say just what I choose.'
Well, but,' I rejoined, I'm a free-born Englishman too, and I'm not bound to listen to the foul language you use, and I won't.' 'Well, if you don't like my language, what business have you here? I don't see what right a gentleman has in a third-class carriage.'
"If you come to rights,' I rejoined, you'll allow that if you choose to take a first-class ticket, you would have a right in a firstclass carriage? You wouldn't stand my telling the guard to put you out, would you?'
Certainly not,' he replied; 'I'd just like to see him try.'
Then, surely, if I choose to spend my money in a third-class ticket, I have a right in a third-class carriage.'
Well, may be so; but then you must take your chance of the conversation. You're a gentleman, I suppose; and I say again a gentleman has no business in a third-class carriage.'
A hum of applause followed this piece of logic.
To meet the alleged necessity of large management expenses, Mr. Randell gives the particulars of a prosperous society whose management expenses are covered by less than 4 d. in the pound on the benefits paid; while other societies including between one and two million members spend from 178. 3d. to over 208. to pay a benefit of 208.
'My good fellow,' I said, 'you have no right to call names.' 'I didn't call you no names,' he rejoined.
'You did,' I said; 'you called me a gentleman. How dared you do it?'
'Well,' said he, quite taken aback, 'you're a parson, I suppose?' "Yes,' I replied; but you called me a gentleman. What do you know about me-you, who have never seen me in your life beforeto have the impudence to call me such a name? But,' I added, 'fair is fair. You have called me a name that you can show no reason for. Now, I will call you a name, and give a reason for it. And your mates shall judge between us. And, if they say I'm wrong, I'll beg your pardon.'
All right, master, that's fair enough,' said one or two of his companions, and the rest sat watching us with pricked-up ears.
'Well,' I continued, my free-born Englishman, the name I call you is a Pauper!'
He jumped up, as if to scramble over and strike me, and his comrades began to look very furious. I jumped up, too, to meet him, with a studied alacrity, which, I rightly judged, would tend to check his ardour, and crying out 'Fair play; I'm coming over to prove my words,' I sprang across into the one vacant seat of the partition, amongst them all, and faced my opponent.
'My lad,' I said to the man on my right, are you in a club?' 'Yes,' he said; the Foresters.'
'Are you ?' I went on, to the man on my left.
'Yes; I'm in the Amalgamated Engineers.'
'And you,' I asked a third; 'what club are you in?'
The fourth and fifth were Odd Fellows, and so on. As I happened to have heard and noted their conversation when they entered the carriage, and had gathered that they were all about to make payments to their clubs, except my rhetorical friend, who had mentioned having dropped off from his club two years before, I came to him last.
What club are you
in?' I asked.
'I'm not in any,' he replied.
'I suppose you've got some pounds in the bank?'
The rest laughed, for they had heard (as I had heard) him asking to borrow from two or three of his companions.
'Not I,' he answered gruffly; 'I've enough to do with all I earns.' And if you break your leg as you get out of this train to-day,'
I asked, where shall you be in a week's time?'
'Come, my lads,' I said, where will he be?'
'In the workhouse, of course,' they answered.
'Then, am I right or wrong?' I rejoined; 'is he a pauper or not? You are all providing yourselves against sickness, and you are independent; but he he is depending on the rates, upon me and upon
you, and he is a pauper, nothing more nor less; it is a mere toss-up from hour to hour whether he has to go into the workhouse or no; and some day or other he must find his way there, unless he drop down dead or be killed. Need I beg his pardon for calling him by a wrong name?'
They agreed, as I knew they would, that I was justified in my epithet, and the little encounter gave me an opportunity of a very pleasant conversation with these worthy fellows as to their clubs. I was full of details of the subject, and warned them, as I felt, very profitably against the risk of insurance in unsound clubs. They clustered round me like bees, and began to question me very busily and anxiously about their own insurances.
'Sir,' says one, I'm an Ancient Woodman; is that a good club?' "Well,' I replied, it may last for a while, but it has only 358. a man laid by, and it's an old club; you ought to have nearer iol. a man.'
'Sir,' said another, I'm one of the Queer Creatures; what about my club?'
'It has only 428. a man laid by,' I said; 'and, besides, not one of you can say he is in a club whose rates are certified by an actuary.'
And so we conversed till we drew near to their destination; and as the poor fellows shook my hand (for they each did, my friend the pauper and all), and thanked me for my warnings, my heart was full of sympathy for them, as I reflected what a wonderful victory a little knowledge of their concerns had enabled me to win over what had been at first coarseness, distrust, and ill-will.
But there was a Parthian dart waiting for myself.
Sir,' said one poor fellow, as he shook my hand, I'm sure we're all thankful that it was a gentleman in our third-class carriage that wasn't ashamed to talk to us poor fellows for our good; and you've told us a lot to make us think about; and God knows none of us wants to be a pauper. Now, can you tell a hard-working man, who wants to be independent, what club he is to put into, no matter what it costs, that can make him quite safe, and certain never to have to beg for parish pay, or be obliged to go into the workhouse when he is old?'
No, my poor fellow, I cannot; I wish I could,' was the only answer I had to give to a question so serious; for I knew no friendly society then, and, I will go further and say, I know no friendly society now, which could give to that poor man, and to such as him, a perfect security against eventual pauperism, such as he was longing to be able to procure.
I dare say there may be someone making a mental or material note, as he reads these words, to the effect that I have herein uttered a sweeping condemnation of all friendly societies, declaring that there is not one good one to be found, but that, so to speak, from Dan to Beersheba, all is barren. That is a false note; I have said nothing of the kind. It is true enough that a multitude of falsely called
friendly societies are insolvent, as being based on dishonesty and swindling; that many more are insolvent, as being carried on honestly, perhaps, but ignorantly; and that a number more are insolvent, because the money contributed for sick pay has been lumped together with money contributed for other objects, and been spent and lost beyond recovery. All this may be, and indeed is, perfectly true. But the statement I have made does not touch these points for a moment. If every friendly society in England were solvent at this moment, I still know of none which can do what my poor bricklayer, and hundreds of thousands of good fellows like himself, asked for, viz. absolutely and perfectly secure a man against personal pauperism, with all its wretched prospects, its haunting shadow, and its hopeless end. I go further, and say that it is a cruel thing that the thrifty men of England cannot secure even their own independence, though they spend enough to do it twice over in efforts only too often vain.
The question is natural: Why can no societies at present, however good, secure this to a poor man? Firstly, because very few make provision for pensions in old age. Secondly, because a vast number of members of such societies are afraid to pay in for pensions in such societies, not necessarily from the fear of the society's, but of their own insolvency, and consequent loss of their whole provision. Thirdly, that to make such provision under common circumstances is really too costly, for the lower class of wage-earner at least. The result of which consideration is that a vast majority of poor men, who call themselves independent because they are members of a friendly society, are, in general, only partially independent, and at best only precariously independent.
1. They are only partially independent, because some of them are only so far provided as to be contributing a trifle to pay for their funeral, their claim for which benefit they will have to forfeit, with all they have contributed for the object, if they become paupers, and prove unable to keep up the payment of their weekly contribution.
Others, provided not only for cost of funeral, but cost of sickness, are still only partially independent, knowing, as they perfectly well do, that dependence on poor-rate is with them only a question of time, since, when past work and unable to earn wages, they must go to the workhouse.
Now, if we strike off from the aggregate membership of the socalled friendly societies in England all who are only partially insured against pauperism, and, pro tanto, dependent on poor-rates, we shall be amazed how very small a percentage of the whole number making some provision against possible necessities remain who are making any provision whatever against pauperism in old age. Let us have
For the past two years a column has been set apart in the Abstract of Returns for the statement made as to provision for old age-the result of which has been to show how very small a proportion of the societies even profess to make such a provision, and how trifling it is when made.'—Chief Registrar's Preliminary Return for 1878, p. 6.