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no dust thrown in our eyes on this point. Many a so-called good club has had its merits flaunted before meetings of poor workmen as vastly superior to national insurance, because its managers have paid off all a paralysed member's future claims upon it with a munificent donation of 20l., 30l., or even 50l.; as if any such sum, which might keep the sick man and family from six to fifteen months, really made him independent of poor-rates or safe from the workhouse, once that dole, which could not be saved, and could not be increased, had vanished away. In a word, nothing but a weekly or monthly pension in old age can possibly secure a wage-earner from eventual pauperism; and, instead of being the universal rule, the purchase of such pension, in present friendly societies, is the rare exception. Thus, I think it will be admitted that I have shown the present independence of our working men to be only a partial independence.
2. I have said also that it is precarious. And this needs very little proof. For though the society may be a solvent and honest one which undertakes to secure a man's sick pay, it only undertakes this task on one condition, that the member keeps his payments up monthly during his lifetime. And how often, even apart from occasions where the means of doing this are lost by vice and self-indulgence, the task becomes impossible. Long-continued slackness of work, hard times, family sickness, disaster, or misfortune of one kind or another, only too frequently leave a man absolutely unable to gather together the few shillings which will pay up the arrears of his contributions, and the distress of one year compels him to relinquish the provision he may have been paying for during twenty. All interested in the administration of our Poor-laws know only too well what a vast proportion of fathers of families who are applicants for rate relief have been members, at one time or other, of friendly societies of one sort or another, and have found their membership not only precarious, but utterly vain at last, either because their society has not secured to them its covenanted provision, or because they themselves have not secured to it their covenanted contribution.
I dare say this will be accepted as sufficient evidence of the precariousness even of the best of friendly societies. And having shown that present efforts at securing independence are ineffectual, because such efforts generally aim at only partial independence, and because such efforts universally are precarious, I offer a challenge which I shall be very glad if any opponent of national insurance will take up, and I ask to be told the name, and shown the rules of any existing friendly society in England which can undertake to give complete and perfect security against pauperism to any independent-minded working man who, like the poor bricklayer I have been speaking of, is anxious to obtain it.
Till we have the name, the rules, and the actuarially certified tables of such a society put into our hands, I will be bold to say that no society exists at the present moment whereby a thrifty man can make himself absolutely secure from pauperism. Why, it may be
asked, do I lay so much stress upon this? Because, until the nation lays this truth to heart, there will be always persons to be found to assure the public that the proposition and advocacy of national insurance as a means of giving the thrifty man a blessed and perfect security against pauperism is quite a work of supererogation, inasmuch as the existence of present friendly societies, which do the work already, makes it unnecessary; and I wish to prevent this being said for ever by insisting, with all my force, that not only do present societies not do the work, but that, under present conditions, the work is impossible for them, with the best will, to accomplish. I speak as a member myself of an important friendly society, as founder and president of one of its branches, as one who, all my clerical life through, has persistently and urgently pressed upon men the duty and the dignity of joining a friendly society; I speak in admiration of all the friendly societies have done and are doing, and in hearty sympathy for the difficulties which lie in poor men's way who try to raise themselves. I readily grant that good friendly societies are good things, and that, however incomplete their operations, such operations are better than none. I will go perhaps further than any one else in this direction, and call it at least fairly debateable, whether in the case of a man who has paid into a friendly society for fifty years, and found it fail him in the end, his aggregate of happiness and self-respect have not been vastly greater than that of the pauper by his side in the workhouse, who has been depending on beggary all his life long without ever laying by a shilling; but, conceding all this, and granting that, in some possible ways, there have lately been some possible improvements introduced into some exceptional friendly societies, I still contend that when national insurance undertakes what they could never undertake-namely, to secure all men against pauperism-there is no more sense in opposing it on behalf of any or all the friendly societies, than there would have been in opposing railways because wheelbarrows were already in existence, and more especially because a few wheelbarrows were constructed on more scientific principles than the rest.
I trust that this may be sufficient to keep out of our discussion everyone who, up to the present time, has supported or said that even the best friendly societies are generally doing, or professing to do, anything at all commensurate with what national insurance would do in keeping men above the possibility of pauperism. Their alleged success in saving some men from some pauperism can no more be advanced as a reason against saving all men from all pauperism, than the existence of a railway between London and Willesden should have been urged as a good argument against making a railway from London to Liverpool. So much for the argument that friendly societies are doing the work of national insurance, and, therefore, that the latter is unnecessary.
Now, there is quite another objection to meet-That national insurance would compete injuriously with present friendly societies;
No. 610 (xo. cxxx. x. s.)
and, therefore, should not be permitted. I answer, firstly, that if it did it would be right. For does not every friendly society now compete with every other friendly society? And must not each one try to present features of special advantage in order to raise its head above its fellows? Why, if a good society be better than a bad one, and should, therefore, be recommended, shall the best conceivable one be forbidden to exist lest it should be supposed to interfere with others demonstrably less useful than itself? And, secondly, I go on to say that national insurance cannot injuriously affect a friendly society formed on proper principles, and to which each member has contributed the proper cost of the benefits he is supposed to have assured. A club that has been speculating on a perennial supply of young insurers to make up the deficiency of payment by old ones has never been formed on proper principles, and is bound to die out of itself, whether national insurance be introduced a few years hence Such are some of the unsurmountable difficulties which beset present voluntary efforts, however self-denying and noble, in the way of independence.
Let me add, if these were all perfectly successful, instead of proving, in too many cases, altogether ineffective, they are efforts made by the thrifty classes only; and supplying these with perfection of security would not necessarily unteach in time the practical lesson of dependence and improvidence which our Poor-law system has been teaching to our thriftless poor.
Then we must alter the system. And, I think, everyone will agree that this should be done, if possible. But some, of course, rejoin, What! We have had it for 300 years; it can't be altered now.' I reply that that is the very reason. It has had 300 years to grow worse on, and, as each day it is growing more destructive, its alteration becomes, by the very antiquity of the abuse, the more necessary. Should we then abolish it? Shall we cut off to-morrow, from everyone not now in a workhouse, every claim to relief? Well, this has been suggested, and I believe myself that were it done, even the potential paupers now would not be left to starve, and the nation for all time to come would be the better for its abolition. This may be true in theory, but I, for one, should be very sorry to advocate its practice. If I did, the two or three who possibly sneer at me now for being sanguine, would have a right to scoff at me then for being silly. No! we cannot abolish our Poor-law. That is altogether a mistaken line. But if we can supersede the Poor-law, as I believe we can, by a system of national insurance, which, taking every unit of the nation in youth, shall compel him, as nature meant him, to make provision for himself against want in sickness and old age; and if, instead of teaching him a wrong reliance on the spoliation of his fellow men, it be possible to take away from everyone the possibility of pauperism, by making each man too rich to claim a farthing from the rates; if, I say, this thing be possible, surely my hearers will admit that the change it would work would be of such benefit to
every class in our nation as should entitle the proposal to their study its advocates to their sympathy, and its advancement to their aid.
This then, in the fewest words I can put it, is my position in advocating national insurance. Every man ought to provide for himself. The young, while single and earning good wages, can do this with ease. It is more just that the law should compel them to do this for themselves, than that it should compel others (as at present) to do it for them. And this is the plan itself—that everyone, rich and poor alike, should be compelled, by the time they reach the age of twenty-one, to complete a contribution in a national friendly society, sufficient to secure them against destitution in sickness or old age. The contributions of the rich, who (unless reduced to the necessity of wage-earning) would never draw from the fund, aiding the contributions of the poor who would, the cost to each person of such a self-made provision would not, probably, exceed a single sum of 10l.
The fund would be collected and distributed through the Postoffice; the law requiring employers to deduct and pay in a fixed proportion of their young workmen's wages, the State running no risk whatever, as the requisite money would all be paid in advance, and the members, on the other hand, being secured from failure by receiving a national guarantee for their investment. The money to be paid either in one sum, or by instalments, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one.
The machinery of the Poor-law would remain, while, if everyone were provided against sickness and infirmity, the greatest part of our poor-rates would vanish altogether. So that, while the rich would save the greatest part of the present enormous impost, the really thrifty working men could secure their independence vastly more cheaply, and infinitely more safely, than at present; and, in addition, the huge class of the thriftless, who in the present course of things must become paupers, would in the outset of life have made their own inalienable provision, which would leave them, in spite of themselves, independent of rate relief for ever. Such a measure, in course of time, would, with very few exceptions, abolish pauperism, almost entirely extinguish poor-rates, and give to every unit of our nation an independent provision made with his own money.
I cannot conclude the present article without a few words in reference to the rapid growth of this subject in public interest. Apart from the essay in this magazine on National Thrift, in April last, and the discussion on National Insurance, last June, in the House of Lords, several leading organs of public thought have from time to time devoted large portions of their space to its consideration. Mr. Randell's remarkable article on Friendly Societies in the Fortnightly" I have already referred to, while the subject has been favourably treated' by three different writers in three successive issues of the 'Nineteenth Century. The second of these, Mr. Tremenheere-though in his interesting essay venturing to propose a modification of my plan, by limiting the proposed compulsion to the industrial classes only, instead
of to the whole population, and though failing to see that such a modification would deprive the proposal at once of its logic and its justice has fully adopted every principle I advanced as necessary to the carrying out of the reform in view. And Lord Carnarvon's essay in the Nineteenth Century' for September cannot fail, by the solid form and quiet tone of its conclusions, to add vast force to the advocacy of a cause already strong in itself. Such an essay, by a statesman of such eminence for thought and judgment as Lord Carnarvon, must satisfy even the most superficial of readers that there is at least, in the suggestion made, matter of very grave importance to the individual and general well-being of our race; it will render it hard for any man of earnest thought to dismiss this subject from his mind as either unreasonable or impossible, before seriously weighing the vast mass of evidence which can be adduced in its favour against the mere fraction of tenable objections which have been, or can be, formulated against its ultimate acceptance. It will not surprise persons who have taken some little trouble to examine this important subject, so much as it may surprise the merely superficial reader here and there, to note that all the writers and all the writing cited are in favour of the proposal.5 The only yet formulated adverse suggestions seem to have been long ago answered; and if, here and there, on platform or in meetings, someone still be found reiterating the same old stock objections which have been already a hundred times publicly confuted, the explanation is very obvious; for it is a great deal easier to assert vague objections in an occasional speech than to formulate and justify them in a deliberate treatise; and those who may be boldest in the generalities of a verbal discussion are apt to find a pen in their fingers affect their logical valour much in the same way as a pistol did the physical valour of Bob Acres in the play.
WILLIAM LEWERY BLACKLEY.
5 Besides these, so far as my knowledge gces, no single effort of any weight has been made to refute my statements or to controvert my positions, except by one writer, the Rev. W. W. Edwards, in an article contributed by him to the Nineteenth Century of November 1879. It has been a source of great regret to me that a singular contretemps prevented my reply to that particular article appearing in the same magazine. I mention this fact, not so much on account of the importance of the article itself, as on account of the importance of being able to say that every adverse criticism has been fully met. The reply to Mr. Edwards's criticism is published, along with five others, in the shilling volume of Essays on the Prevention of Pauperism, put forth by the National Providence League, and published by Messrs. Kegan Paul & Co.