Farm labourers, their friendly societies, and the poor law
FRIENDLY SOCIETIES, AND THE POOR LAW.
The Rev. J. Y. STRATTON,
RECTOR OF DITTON, KENT.
PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET,
AND CHARING CROSS.
JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND.
VOL. VI.— S.S. PART I.
FRIENDLY SOCIETIES, AND THE POOR LAW.
The following article will treat of the means of improving the condition of the agricultural classes of this country, by the development of trustworthy insurances suited to their requirements. It will be necessary to our purpose to consider the bearing of the Poor Law, and the influences exerted by it in diminishing and retarding efforts which might be made by farm labourers to attain a position superior to that now commonly occupied by them, and alterations will be suggested in the mode of affording relief and collecting the rate, by the adoption of which labourers who now on their view of the rate commonly waste their surplus wages in societies, miscalled benefit clubs, may be induced and encouraged either to improve and reform their societies, or to forsake them and join better.
Burial societies, their cost and management, will form no part of our subject. A Commission of Enquiry can alone deal satisfactorily with them, and there is sufficient in the state of these societies to render enquiry under a Royal Commission desirable, even if there were no other classes of industrial insurance than burial societies in need of attention. Neither shall we deal with the state of the friendly societies of the superior artisan and labourer, who commonly seek such advice and protection as the Registrar-General is able to afford them. The members of these institutions have for many years struggled hard to obtain a provision for their need, such as the friendly society offers, and now that many difficulties, among which want of money is not to be reckoned, have been overcome, they will find their task less arduous than hitherto. That they will succeed in the long run in securing an independent provision by insurances best adapted to their wants is not so much a matter of uncertainty as a question of time.
No such hopeful prospect, however, is in store for those whose insurances demand our special attention, and whose lot is cast within the verge of pauperism. In order to understand the construction and cost, the management and provision of their benefit societies, reference must be made to the Poor Law. And we are glad that at length the necessity of enquiry into the bearing of the Poor Law or Friendly Societies is recognised. The last report of the Commission on the employment of children, young persons, and women in agriculture, recommends further investigation. An important consideration, which underlies the whole question of the insurances of the rural poor, is that their wages shall be sufficient to enable them to save. The variation in the rate of wages is a question into which we need not enter further than to notice that it varies with the price of food and fuel, house and garden rents, and the pernicious custom of part payment in drink or the produce of the farm, and also the means of the farmer. But the point in connection with the wages to which we shall draw attention is one which appears to have escaped the notice of the Commissioners. There is no difficulty in proving that, wherever farm labourers form and maintain benefit societies of the common order, their wages are sufficient to secure to them over and above their present maintenance an independence, provided only they had the means of safe insurances, and would turn them to a right account. It is, we admit, an independence of an humble kind, but still sufficient to raise those who gain it above pauperism, unless under extraordinary pressure and trial, when help from the poor-rate may be honestly claimed, and received without social or moral degradation. And the effort to secure such provision by self-help and prudent management would of itself infuse new life and energies into the English labourer.
But while we claim on behalf of the rural poor some assistance, not of a pecuniary kind, by which they may be aided in the duty of securing provision for themselves in sickness and old age, alterations of great importance are at the same time equally needed in the administration of relief, in order to stop the demoralising habits of improvidence and waste which it does at present encourage among the rural poor. It is simply hopeless to work for any permanent material improvement in the social condition of the agricultural labourer so long as he considers the poor-rate to be his rent-charge in lieu of the portion of soil which he cultivates for another, and in part payment for his labour. It is not possible either to improve their benefit societies to any great extent or to induce labourers in any considerable number to join safe and well managed friendly societies, so long as the vicious notion is not eradicated from their minds that the provision of a pauper is one which they must on no account forfeit by any effort on their part to obtain support for themselves.
In attempting to improve the position of those who dwell in the debatable land wherein independence ends, and pauperism begins, we must endeavour to call forth their own exertions if we would succeed in emancipating them from the abject serfdom of the Poor Law, and put them in the way of securing their independence by habits of self-reliance, and making good use of the opportunities afforded them.
With these remarks, we shall describe the farm labourer as he is in fairly wage-paid districts, and see what may be done in order to render the bearing of the Poor Law conducive to provident habits instead of being subversive of them. We shall, then, examine one or two of his benefit societies, whether formed and managed for him or by him; and it will be our duty again to urge the advantages which a system of insurances under Government supervision would place within his disposal.
Unless the education of the farm labourer is commenced early, and diligently prosecuted in the fields, he will not learn it well. It is, therefore, something more than a mere coincidence that necessity to help in earning his living enforces this law in nineteen families out of twenty. For this purpose the young labourer is taken from school as soon as he can earn 4d. or 6d. a day on the farm. He forgets all he has learned at school as fast as other boys do, and has few opportunities of doing more than just to regain what he was taught before ten years of age. As my specimen grows bigger, he is worth more money. He leaves home, and goes into service as a "mate," or lad, to help the waggoner, whose wife takes care of his clothes. He is speedily ambitious of all the distinctions of early manhood, and after passing through the half-dozen violent attachments which the matrons of Grumbleton denominate calf-love, he is seen some fine morning, before he is two-and-twenty, on his way from church with his bride, who is only seventeen. There is reason to hope that the blessings which the friends of the happy couple bestow upon them—and they can give them nothing more—will not be in vain, for they will have occasion for everything of the kind before long. If they cannot be accommodated under the roof of their parents, and wonderful are the contrivances made with this object in view, they locate themselves in a couple of rooms ready furnished in a noisy row of cottages. They hire the furniture of the broker, and, for a time, all goes on merrily. Work is plentiful. She is a managing girl, he is a hard-working lad; and by the time there are a couple of children, they are in a cottage. One thing is a trouble, and that is the broker's bill. As that wary dealer saw opportunity, he would sell them some useful article of furniture which they had hitherto rented. Thus, by slow degrees, the bed they sleep on, the table, the chairs, and household clock, are in due time all their own. Still they have not bought cheaply, and, while they owed the broker a bill for furniture hire, had a cogent reason for not disputing his price list.
The doctor's bill proves a heavy item, but the doctor is kind, and will wait till they can pay him; he will have a tolerable test of his kindness, I fear. In addition is the monthly call of the bagman-clothier for a contribution for a dress nearly worn out, but not nearly paid for; also of the bagman-shoemaker for boots in the same predicament. So that what with the rent and fixed outgoings, as well as incidental ones, the wife has looked trouble in the face, and trouble has returned the gaze, and stamped upon her countenance a careworn expression before she is one-and-twenty. There is also another confinement approaching, and this time there will be less difficulty in obtaining union relief, for the ice was broken on a former occasion, and if their case was good then, it is better now. In the mean time my specimen has joined his sick and benefit club. He had heard of several which offered various advantages, but nothing so good, he thinks, as the Black Bear Club, and so thinks the landlord who manages the club, which holds its meetings every other Saturday night. The club shall be described in its place. It is sufficient here to state that its cost (not counting extraordinary charges, such as for more beer than that supplied under rules, the cost of "regalia," and of the club-day) averages 9d. a week, which is hard upon 2l. a year. This sum my specimen does contrive to pay, notwithstanding that the pinch of poverty is pretty sharp upon him at the time when his family comprises half a dozen little children, not one of whom is strong enough to be worth 6d. a day as a perambulating scarecrow on the farm.
Time passes on, and the boys are worth money. The eldest lad works like a man for a shilling a day, and eats like two men. The second, hardly ten years of age, is employed as sheep-boy, or else on the land at 6d. a day.
The average weekly earnings and expenditure of the family are much as follows. We take the rate of living in a neighbourhood where rents, fuel, and repairs run high, and wages are correspondingly high:—
|Father, average wages||14||0||Rent||3||0|
|Eldest boy (7 days a week)||7||0||Food||16||6|
|Fuel and lights||2||0|
The balance of 3s. 9d. remains for the bagmen, and, save the mark, for clothing father, mother, and children, for bedding, for accidents, and repairs not paid for by the landlord, and incidental expenditure which will arise; and must be met. The average of the wife's earnings at light field work is given, though her earnings come in in such a manner that they can only be said to exercise a healthy disturbing influence upon the income. For every week in which she makes 6s. there are two when she earns nothing. Prudence, therefore, is necessary, and great economy to keep things together. But no man can count on a single day's health. Those who undergo no harassing term of sickness are singularly happy, and ought to review mercies of preservation as not the least marks of the care of a good Providence over them. And so, as a rule, my specimen does; he is much more in the habit of thinking with gratitude of the blessing of good health than is generally supposed. Still illness, or an accident, may come at any time; and now take the other side of the picture:—
|Father, ill and on the club||10||0|
|Mother and boys average||11||0|
|From union: medical relief, and relief according to scale, viz., four children dependent at 1s. in flour||4||0|
Expenses as before, excepting that the club payment is 6d., as he does not attend meetings, and, being ill, is not fined for absence.
If his illness lasts more than three months, the sickness pay from his club is reduced to half; but in this case the board of guardians will give him a money payment of 4s. in addition to its grant in food.
Pass on half a dozen years, and examine my specimen again. The family are growing up; two sons entirely off his hands, out at service, and conducting themselves on the approved system as their father before them; two daughters in domestic service, one boy at 7s. a week, and a girl still at school.
His income averages 23s. a week, and the easier strain on his means is perceptible in the improved condition of the family and the home. They are out of debt at last, reject all overtures from bagmen, buy their things where they are known, and, lastly, keep a better table. As the remaining children quit the parents' nest, and go forth to earn their own living, a lodger or two can be taken in and done for; so far as ability is concerned, they might begin to save money beyond the payment always punctually made to the club. He might, for instance, deposit a small sum monthly in the Post Office Savings Bank; or, better still, he might invest the same in securing an annuity at the Post Office, or by means of the large and trustworthy County Friendly Society, which would be glad to take him. Why does he not take one of these courses, each of which offers such an advantage to him as his forefathers never enjoyed? His forefathers!—the utmost security for any little sum they scraped together was an old tea-cup in the cupboard, or the foot of an old stocking hid in the thatch, or, more perilous still, the custody of their master. Annuities and deposit accounts were impossibilities to them. Why then does not the labourer avail himself of his opportunities and walk in one of the avenues to independence opened to his very door by a beneficent legislation? He prefers to walk in no such ways, but in view of the provision of the poor-rate, refuses to save one farthing beyond that which he contracts with his club. He spends his money as he receives it, and for these reasons. With a sum in the Savings Bank he cannot claim relief from the rate. In case of need, the money must go, before the board will help him; that is to say, in his opinion he would be saving money, not for himself, but for the ratepayers, the owners of the soil. And further, my specimen has a grievance, and that not a sentimental one, on the subject of the rates. His landlord "farms the rates;" he pays a composition in lieu of leaving the occupier to pay the rate as it becomes due. The composition is half the annual amount of the rates, or less if anything, and the amount paid by the landlord varies according to the number of rates made in the course of the year, from 3s. to 4s. 6d., according as there are two or three rates. For this the landlord charges him 3d. a week in the rent, which amounts to 13s. a year. No wonder that an intelligent cottager considers such an arrangement an injustice for which he has no means of redress, excepting that of obtaining as much as he can from the funds of the rate. Again, if the man was compelled to pay his share of the rate as it became due, he would have one reason supplied him for uniting in the effort to make two rates in the year sufficient, and save the third, whereas he is now utterly indifferent whether there are two or half a dozen, so long if as he can make good his claim for relief. Public opinion in his class is in favour of rate plunder, and the effort to reverse it by compelling all cottagers to pay their rates as they are made, and at the same time abolishing the injustice practised by unscrupulous owners of cottages as above noticed, remains yet to be made. The same reason which deters him from saving money holds good in the case of his providing himself with an annuity. Why should he save the parish from paying half a crown a week for his support when the process will interfere with the expenditure which he allows himself as his children become able to find a home of their own?
We will now trace his life another stage. The infirmities of age begin to affect him, and recourse is had to the funds of the club. As he grows older, he does not grow stronger, and at length he must be got rid of, or he will break up the club. The day of the annual election of the members affords the opportunity, and he is passed over. Old-age pay at 2s. 6d. a week, minus the weekly contribution of 6d., would not be greatly grudged him by the members, but the consideration that the board of guardians will allow him half a crown without any deduction, and that the rate can bear such a payment much easier than the funds of the Black Bear, settles the point against his being suffered to remain among the members. And thus, after having paid to the funds of his society a sum in hard cash, not computing interest, little short of 100l., he is turned adrift in his old age. He is, however, somewhat consoled by being reminded that he paid as the squire pays insurance, against loss by fire, an insurance which would cover such loss. He has had his pennyworth for his penny. He has been blessed with wonderful health, and did not therefore require much assistance from the fund. He must not therefore complain. Nor does he complain, but bears the severance with patience. An invitation gratis to the festival dinner he accepts, and is thence-forward parted from association with mine host of the Black Bear, and the fortnightly meeting of his old friends and fellow-labourers. One enquiry he makes relating to burial money, a sum of 8l. being included in his insurance, and a fine joke they make at the notion of the merry old fellow wanting money "to prepare his funeral."
By and bye the "Domus ultima"—the workhouse–opens its doors to receive him and his wife. Home and its little comforts, which become necessaries of life to the aged, must be given up; the goods and chattels are divided among his sons and daughters, who are only too glad to get all they can, and could not help the parents much, even if they recognised the duty of so doing, having children and cares of their own. Once in the union, he parts from his wife, to meet her but for a short half-hour in each week of the brief term remaining to them before they turn "to the unremembered and unremembering dust." She soon pines away of no disease in particular, and he remains a desolate old man, so far as desolation consists in the destruction of home and family associations and sympathies, and the want of every human kindness, but the conventional kindness contracted for and paid by the poor-rate. His associates in the old men's ward by day, his companions in the old men's ward by night, in all the feebleness and with something of the petulance and peevishness of the aged, are (with one or two exceptions) men whom he never would have been, from a feeling of self-respect, familiar with so long as he could help it, men some of whom have eaten their Christmas dinners in the gaol, in their time, and say they enjoyed them more than in the workhouse. His relations seldom go near the old man, and he can no longer walk over to the scene of his home, and he waits with such patience and resignation as religion and experience have combined to teach him till the jest of the club day becomes sober truth, for the parish has to pay for the funeral after all.
Now that man had the intelligence, the industry, and the will, which would have secured him independence and a home in his old age. But he had no fair chance. In addition to the ancient difficulty of earning such provision by the sweat of his brow, he fell under the modern contrivance of a law which unintentionally, but yet with deadly certainty, hindered his making the effort. He had the natural wish for the friendship and help of his neighbours, and the desire to reciprocate their kindness, and the friendly society secured these advantages. Further than this, and reaching to permanent provision, the society must not, in his opinion go, unless he would jeopardise his presumed right to a share of the poor-rate. His society exacted the cost of his independence, so far as money goes, and the natural and unavoidable consequence was his gradual fall in social position, till he became a permanent pauper. Under auspicious legislation the man might have saved not only himself, but, by example and influence, others from such a fate. But having no moral support or encouragement from legislation, but the fear instead that his earnings would benefit, not himself and family, but the ratepayers, he consents to cross over the frontier-line, and at last to abide under the cold shade and desolating sway of the Poor Law.
There are many thousands of honest and respectable farm labourers in this country who are in a similar condition, and whose prospects are the ultimate provision from the rate; the effort to save these men from the degradation to which they submit themselves is yet to be made.
There is another class, and that a numerous and costly one, to be taken into account, the members of which recruit the gaol as well as the workhouse. As young men they were disobedient sons, idle and disreputable, whom no farmer would employ unless under compulsion. My specimen of this class is the son of a pilfering sire, his mother a slattern and a scold; his earliest recollections, probably, are of his father coming home drunk on a Sunday afternoon and finding him and his brothers and sisters crying for food, and beating his mother, for which he was sent to prison, while the wife and family found refuge in the union. In the union (he remembers it as one of the horrors of the place) they forced him to learn to read, and hence his hatred of learning. He will never work if he can help it, and calls himself a bricklayer's labourer. Now and then I see him on the farm, as an additional hand, when there is nobody better to be had, or as ostler at the public-house. He is out at elbows, out of victuals, and generally out of work. He joins a beer-house club, held at a beer-shop in the wood, which offers unusual facilities for him and other choice spirits like him, inasmuch as it is secluded and not often troubled by the police. He drinks his full share of the beer supplied in the way of fines for absence from the meetings and for oaths unawares let slip during the business hours of the club, which at a pint an oath supplies a good deal of beer. He has a turn on the treadmill, after a little preparatory training in the winter at the union, where he refused to break stones or pick oakum, and came within the definition of a refractory pauper. He manages to pick up a wife, a girl who insisted "on going out," i.e. leaving the union at the fair-time in a neighbouring town, and is married at one-and-twenty at the register office. She ends the honeymoon with a confinement, and has parish doctor and nurse, and within six months of matrimony you may see her a wretched, half-starved, and ragged woman, with a black eye, and a puny child, which cries piteously and unceasingly. He has the common luck of idle men, an accident, which gives him a right to the sick-fund of his club. He applies for union relief, and then discovers that instead of receiving as large a share of "his rights" as a former companion, who had been turned out of the club for cheating, he obtains only half, and that not in cash, but in flour. My specimen therefore considers himself an ill-used man, and as the stewards of the club stop his pay before he considers himself well, he thence-forward takes up his parable against self-help and benefit societies, and in the long run will have cost the ratepayers a little fortune in maintaining him and his family. When he comes permanently into the house, he has the same care and attention as the most respectable poor man in it, who, indeed, occupies the next bed in the ward in which my specimen sleeps.
Placed between the two classes of which these are the representative men, and influenced by the example of each for good and evil in turn, is the mass of the farm labourers of this country. Something surely might be done to encourage the good and repress the evil, not by destroying the Poor Law, as some earnest reformers think possible, but by judicious and careful alterations in the mode of dealing with applicants for relief; and we venture to call attention to the points in which reform should be attempted, before discussing the treatment of applicants for poor-relief who belong to benefit societies. And, first, with regard to the treatment of idle and vicious able-bodied paupers. There is at present no provision in our unions adequate to their deserts. The system of administration is weak, and fails when applied to them. The cost of their maintenance and clothing should be exacted from the male pauper of this class. We have labour tests, useful in some cases, useless in others, but no organisation which would secure to these encumbrances of the community the strict necessity of earning their bread. Retaining the power of dealing with refractory and disorderly paupers according to the law, the guardians of the poor might be empowered to draft able-bodied paupers of bad character from among the inmates of their union, and send them for a term to an establishment where work was exacted in return for maintenance. One such establishment in each county would suffice for all the unions in it, and labour could be found, both indoors and out of doors, for its occupants, who should be kept there for not less than a month, and receive sufficient food and clothing during that time, provided that they earned it, and in all respects to be amenable to the law as at present in force.
But in the case of those whose want arises not from their fault but misfortune, the care of the local board of guardians may properly be exercised with kindness, and even some indulgence, often, be it remembered, shown by them at present on the worthless as well as the deserving poor. There is a class of able-bodied paupers whose necessities arise not from their idleness or other vice, but their incapacity in districts where there is some competition for farm labour to keep their employment. It is one of the advantages of the system of local boards that they can deal better in applying the principle of treating such applicants than any other organisation, past or present, in the relief of the poor. Taking care to avoid the rocks on which the old Poor Law struck and foundered, one of which was the contrivance of supplementing wages from the poor-rate, there are many cases in which out-door relief might be afforded, to which, from a just fear of establishing a precedent liable to abuse, the guardians refuse relief other than the house.
It is further germane to the improvement of the poor that a reform of the law in points in which it is confessedly at variance with laws designed by the Creator for the good of the human race should be made. The regulations which break up families, which separate husband and wife, parent and child, perpetuate greater evil than that inflicted on those who are thus parted. Results of this unnatural law are plainly and sadly traceable in the brutality of husbands towards their wives and families, the relaxation of family ties, or in the unnatural coolness with which an only son will leave a widowed mother to end her days in the workhouse, and will refuse, unless compelled by the magistrates, to contribute one farthing of his ample wages towards her maintenance. It is true that the Act makes a distinction between able-bodied married people and couples infirm from age or other cause. With respect to the former, if there is good reason why a man, crushed by adversity and not by vice, should desire the consolation of his wife, instead of being compelled to separate at the time when mutual support is most strongly needed; if it is true that the anguish of being parted is but keener in the female mind, then let us not continue, for the sake of a neat system of regulating the inmates of the union house, to augment the distress of the poor by such forced separation. And with regard to the permission given to infirm married people to live together in the workhouse, let us ask how often is it complied with? There may be unions in which rooms are assigned to one or more such couples, and the Poor Law Board might be requested to name them. The schedule of such a return would not, we think, be a lengthy one. How can we look for moral and social advancement among the poor so long as the Creator's regulations for the comfort and happiness of mankind are thus invaded by those of the Poor Law? The mischief extends far beyond the immediate victims; it affects the mass of the labourers by degrading in their eyes the bond of matrimony, and impairing the influences of family affection and of reciprocal duties.
We will now turn to the benefit societies in common request among the rural poor, which almost succeed in keeping at a distance from them large and well-managed certified societies, or trustworthy branches of the great societies, such as the Manchester Unity and the Foresters, and which will continue to maintain their ground till alterations in the mode of dispensing relief from the rate are made.
They are the sharing-out or "brummagem" clubs, and divide their funds at the end of the year among the members, after which they form anew, and thus continue from year to year.
The sharing-out club holds its meetings at the public-house, and is principally managed by the landlord. "Sometimes," says Mr. Tidd Pratt, "the club is sold with the good-will of the house." It is contrived to secure a "connection" for the house, and at the same time to comprise the advantages of the provident society without abandoning the member's claim on the poor-rate. All the members pay the same weekly contribution, which is settled on the following rough and ready calculation. One halfpenny a week from each member is to secure 1s. a week for every sick member for a term of three or six months (mark the indifference to the duration of the term); 6d. for a further like term, after which, provided the claimant does not miss re-election, superannuation or old-age pay. Where wages run high, 6d. a week is no uncommon contribution. This will secure—
|12s.||a week in sickness,||or||10s.||with, say, 8l. burial money;|
|6s.||„„||half- pay, or||5s.||if with burial money;|
|2s.||6d.a week, old-age||pay;|
subject, however, to the deduction, in each case, of the weekly contribution of 6d. In case of the death of a member, an additional levy of 1s. is made; if a member's wife dies, a levy of 6d. ; if a child, 3d. Each member pays for a pint of beer at the fortnightly meeting, which he is welcome to come and drink if he likes; if he does not, the club will drink it for him. On quarterly nights the amount spent by rule in beer is 6d; there is also something from fines (which should rather be called extra pay) for refusing to serve the office of steward, and which goes to the officiating steward.
The cost of the club, always supposing that no extra pints of beer are drunk, is as follows:—
|At 6d. a week, for the year||26||0|
|Expenses of the room, at 3d. (26 meetings)||6||6|
|Extra expenses on quarterly nights||1||0|
|Fixed contributions by rules||33||6|
|Add for steward and other fines, say||1||0||(very moderate)|
|Levy for deaths||1||0|
Something more must, in fairness, be added for cost of a flag or two, and a few ribbons and beer; for, in truth, a member scarcely gets out of the business meeting for the pint, and our estimate of 9d. a week for the current expenses of the club will not be found above the mark. The annual club day runs into a good deal of incidental expenditure, but as it is the annual holiday of the villagers, which they would most likely have if there were no benefit societies in existence, we will not take the items into account in computing the cost, which is but little, if at all, below 2l. a year. The members are elected on the annual feast-day, and make a declaration that they are subject to no disorder or disease likely to cause them to fall on the sick-fund. If their declaration is untrue, such members are at once turned out of the club, and forfeit all that they have paid. There are many societies in which a medical certificate is required instead of a verbal declaration, and the cost of the certificate is 1s. When the member is ill, he sends to the steward, and "declares on the sick-fund." Whereupon the steward visits him, and if satisfied that the illness is such as to incapacitate the member from work, he is at liberty to pay at the end of one week from the declaration 12s., less 6d., the weekly contribution. If the steward is not satisfied, he will have medical evidence, and lay the case before the next meeting, when instructions will be given how to proceed. The custom is that the club is satisfied of the correctness of the claim if the board of guardians admit it and afford relief. It may be noted that the board, in its turn, attach importance to the fact of a member being in receipt of sickness pay; and in societies which give no allowance for anything but "total and undisputed incapacity by reason of illness to do any work whatever," the man who is too ill to earn his living, but not sufficiently ill to claim money from the sickness fund, may receive, and occasionally does receive, hard treatment from the board. The faulty system of espionage, which, as an adequate protection against imposition in sickness, has been strangely overrated, is strictly enforced, and falls to the lot of the stewards, though all the members are expected to assist by giving information if need be. The rules are strict, and properly so, in the case of sickness:—"No member receiving benefit from this club shall be allowed to walk more than three miles from home, without being fined 1s.; if found drunk, to be fined 1s.; if found working or assisting in anything of the kind, or if he be out after seven o'clock in the evening, he shall be fined or excluded, as the majority of members at an ordinary meeting shall determine."
The weekly contributions of the members are the same in amount. Objection has been persistently taken against the "uniform contributions," on the score of causing insolvency. That it is unjust for a man of 45 to pay the same as a lad of 18, both entering at the same time, is beyond dispute. But there is no great injustice in all members under the age of 30 years paying alike, and the vast majority of the members join on the younger side of 20; nor will the club admit new members if upwards of 35 years of age.
There is but one instance within our knowledge in which the contribution appears to be too low, and in that case there is a guarantee in the shape of ample "honorary" contributions. There is much in the notion of "all paying alike" which commends itself to the farm labourer; "all pay alike, and all fare alike," he will say; and if you inform him that equality and fairness in contributions can only be secured by a scale of payments graduated according to age, the man is puzzled, but not shaken in his belief of fair play.
Be the case as it may, the annual election secures the means of relieving the club of the man who becomes too great a burden for his friends longer to sustain. The industrious and honest old man, who cannot tell the difference between sickness and "chronic ailments and mere decrepitude," but who knows that he is ill, must go. In order to save the leaky vessel from foundering, the unlucky victim is tossed overboard, and falls into the mouth of tho Poor Law, from which he never has the food fortune to emerge with life. The grumbling and dishonest old man, who has fixed himself on the funds of the society, and compels his friends to carry him with a tenacity of hold like that of the Old Man of the Mountain, is shaken off, once and for all, on the club-day. "They gave me two shillings and sent me my dinner, and said the union might do all the rest, and was better able than they were." The poor-rate is, indeed, the virtual superannuation fund of the farm labourers' societies, and the annual election is the trap-door by which the member is transferred to the rate.
We have, lastly, the genial feature of the holiday, which is turned to account by the landlord, and other managers of the club. On Whit-Monday or Easter Monday the village is enlivened by flags and banners, and the sign of the Black Bear is entwined with garlands, and my specimens, good, bad, and indifferent, may be seen mustering in front of the inn in their Sunday clothes, with sashes and scarves, behind the band which is to "play them" to church. The strong box is carried by the treasurer, and two or three wands and baubles, dignified by the outlandish name of "regalia," are distributed into the custody of the stewards, and away they go to the church, where the vicar says the prayers, and preaches an appropriate sermon. Far be it from us to wish for one influence for good to be impaired or removed, especially where the best and highest of all influences is exerted, and our labourers brought within range of that power which has elevated unlettered men and women throughout the length and breadth of our land to a better knowledge than the scholar and the sage have always attained. Some shaft from the quiver of divine truth may strike home, and the chance listener, who came merely as a part of the rustic pageant, may return in possession of something of more consequence to him than the provision of a sick and burial club. But inasmuch as the public act of worship is oftentimes regarded by the managers and members merely as a means of consolidating and strengthening the position of the club, caution is needed in opening the church for special service and sermon. And not only by the prostitution of divine service, but by the attendance of the clergyman of the parish, and other influential parishioners at the dinner, and by their subscriptions, support is too commonly afforded which is in no way merited. No society ought ever to be in want of a single sixpence from subscriptions, and, unless there is evidence of financial soundness and good management, encouragement of any kind should be refused. Where moral and pecuniary aid are given to a pauperising sharing-out club, evil is done, however excellent the intentions of those who bestow it. By entirely withdrawing support from such institutions, and encouraging and infiuencing labourers to form or join safe and solvent societies, the clergyman and squire may render valuable help to many of their poor and deserving neighbours.
The sharing-out club, then, is the offspring of the beer-house and the union, and is nourished and maintained by those who, in the long run, whether landowners or labourers, have small cause for congratulation. Diverted by the provisions of the Poor Law from attempts to save, where they can save, the labourers have thus resorted to the ingenious contrivance by which their presumed rights to relief are not brought into jeopardy, while, at the same time, all the advantages of social and kindly influences arising from friendly co-operation are preserved to them. The benefit society of the farm labourer is thus adapted to his requirements. Alter the conditions on which it is based, and he will soon begin to re-model, or else, if he cannot improve it, he will forsake it for a better. In order to make him begin, he must, whether willingly or not, be emancipated from the shackles of the Poor Law, and be taught to leave the pittance of the rate to his weaker brethren, whom no friendly society can take, and who are the maimed, or lame, or blind, or otherwise infirm, and those who are starving in rags and squalid wretchedness in and about the towns and cities of this country.
As an instance of what may be done by all classes in a parochial friendly society, attention may be called to the "Wicken Club," which was formed in 1838; "the object of it being not only to make provision for sick members, for superannuated members, and to insure a payment at death, but to encourage amongst the villagers a spirit of self-reliance, and a desire to render themselves independent, except under really unavoidable circumstances, of parochial relief." The population of Wicken is under 500, and the club, "including juniors," numbers 280 members. "Almost every man, woman, and child, of the labouring class in the parish is a member." Being in a small area, it is able to offer the additional benefit of medical attendance, and, indeed, it engrafts on the friendly society proper, various useful branches, all of which appear to thrive and to bear good fruit The rate of contribution is but half that quoted in the case of the sharing-out clubs, viz., a farthing contribution for every shilling a week of sickness pay, and the reserve of the Registrar as to the sufficiency of the rates of contribution is not to be wondered at. There is, however, a small sum, 600l., in the Savings Bank to the credit of the club, and annual income from the subscription of honorary members. Under its present management the members of the society have little to fear on the score of insolvency. Several of the advantages offered to the members would not, we fear, be commonly available in other localities, but in many cases they might be secured with good results. "So long as you continue a member of this club" (we quote from the annual address), "you will enjoy the following privileges over and above those who are not members:—
1. "You will, if householders, have garden allotments, a coal club, and a clothing club for your children, besides other advantages for your wives, during their confinements and in cases of dangerous illness.
2. "In common cases of illness you will have assistance from the honorary fund, so as to reduce your own payments to the small amount of a farthing for a shilling, or 8s. 8d. a year in health, for 8s. a week in sickness; and a death payment of 2l. for males, 1l. for females, and 10s. for all other members under twelve years of age.
3. "No charge will be made for management and keeping the accounts, both of which are provided for by the honorary members.
4. "The club feast will be paid for out of the honorary fund so long as it can meet the payments."
There is also a penny savings bank for the junior members. The treasurer of the club is (under rule) bound to act as agent for the Government in insurances for deferred annuities. But the members are, as usual, indifferent to the advantages which may by this means be obtained.
The management is entrusted to a committee, consisting of five honorary members, the secretary, and the stewards; the treasurer and any two of the five to be a quorum. The managing committee is also appointed by the honorary, and not by the benefit or free, members. All persons wishing to become free members are to apply to the clergyman of the parish. The age on admission not to be less than six or more than forty years. A certificate of health from the medical attendant to be produced, and the name and age of every such candidate (we suppose the ladies have no objection in Wicken) "shall be put up on the church door for three consecutive Sundays," after which, if no reason to the contrary is made good (which must be stated to the treasurer or the secretary), the candidate becomes a free member, provided also that he pays a shilling for the rules.
Full sickness pay is allowed for 26 weeks, and half-pay for 13, and there are facilities afforded for more pay should the case require it.
Each member is required to provide himself with a medal, which costs sixpence, and is to be worn on the club-day. In this respect a hint might be taken by the various orders of larger societies, whose members array themselves in an absurd and expensive manner on such occasions. The members muster at the rectory, and walk in procession, headed by their band, to church; and on their return parade the village, and dine together in a tent. The proceedings of the day commence at 11 and terminate at 7 o'clock. The rules "are framed on Christian principles, so that the business of the club may be carried on in the fear of God, and that its members may hope for His blessing." Some excellent advice is contained in the short address, which is printed, and given to each member on joining the club.
The benevolent founder states that, "while the poor themselves are benefited by the club, the ratepayer is also benefited to a greater extent than is generally supposed;" and he institutes a comparison from the point of view taken by the poor, of the effect of the friendly society in lessening the rate, between the cost of applicants for relief who are members of the society and applicants in the same parish who belong to no society, from which he shows that the saving is large.
The weak point in a club of the parochial kind (which has, however, much to recommend it to the notice of readers, especially among the clergy, who are interested in benefit societies) is that the real management is, and must be, in the hands of one or two persons. So long as the founder is spared to take the chief part, all may be well, but sooner or later a change comes. The management, which requires some skill and considerable labour, is thrown into the hands of a new officer, with whom the committee do not work with the ease and efficiency to which they have been accustomed. Attendance of the committee becomes slack, the members drop off, and new ones do not present themselves. The opportunity to form a public-house club is eagerly turned to account, and the parish club ceases to retain its hold on the bulk of the people. This is a defect by no means limited to small benefit societies, though more commonly found in them than in the large county societies, and supplies one reason why old-age pay, or superannuation allowance, is so seldom contracted for. A prudent artisan will say, "Admitting that your management is trustworthy, and your club solvent, who will answer for good management and solvency by the time I should be old enough to benefit by it?" And the apprehension is greatly strengthened by the notoriously insecure condition of the certified friendly societies, very few, indeed, of which (hardly one in a thousand) are admitted to be solvent. The managers of the better class of societies are, however, beginning to learn the difference between capital and surplus capital, but it is still no uncommon case to find that a society which has accumulated a few hundreds is considered able to divide among its members a considerable portion of its capital, which is the store from which coming liabilities can alone be met. After such a dissipation of the funds, which have been possibly increased owing to one or two healthy seasons, there comes a down-rush of claims for sickness pay and for burial money, and there is nothing to pay. Where the common fate is shipwreck, people are afraid to embark their fortunes, and hence superannuation allowance is not likely to be popular when granted by the friendly society. It will require time and a great change in the rural classes before they will seek such provision by means of the Post Office.
We will next take an instance of a friendly society which is well known, and which offers great advantages to the industrial and labouring classes of Kent.
The County of Kent Friendly Society was founded in 1828 by the philanthropic exertions of the Rev. John Hodgson, who subsequently founded, and now most ably superintends, the excellent institution formed for the benefit of the clergy and their families, known as the Clergy Mutual Assurance Society, The County of Kent Friendly Society consists of honorary and benefit members, and is managed by boards of directors, held at certain towns in Kent, the board at Maidstone being the principal. The directors comprise persons of all classes from the peer to the artisan. Agents are appointed in various districts into which the county is divided, who are in some cases honorary, in others are paid by a commission. At the last actuarial valuation of the society, it was declared to possess surplus capital to a large amount. As this society has often been referred to as a model for the formation of others, the benefits which it offers to the county, and its mode of dispensing them merit notice.
(1) "Any man residing in the county of Kent, being not less than 14 or more than 49 years of age, and in good health at the time of admission, may secure a sum not less than 4's. or more than 2O's. per week, to be paid to him at any time or times till he reaches the age of 70, on his being unable to work in consequence of bodily injury. To this benefit is always added the further benefit of a sum to be paid to the survivors of a member at his death, which does not exceed 18l."
(2) "Any person may insure for burial money not less than 5l. or more than 50l., if under 65 years of age."
(3) "Any person may secure the benefit of a sum not less than 5l. and not exceeding 200l., to be paid to him or her, or to any other person nominated to receive it, at the end of 7, 8, 9, or any other number of years, not exceeding 20." This benefit is called "Endowment."
(4) Weekly allowances not less than 1s. or exceeding 10s. may be assured to persons on reaching 65 or 70 years of age. Part of the surplus funds is applied to increase weekly allowances (old-age pay), as well as to the additional relief of members suffering from lengthened illness.
(5) Assurances on life for sums not less than 55l. or exceeding 200l. are also granted.
The insurances best suited to the farm labourers are:—No. 1, sickness and burial money; No. 2, burial money; and No. 4. The sickness pay is invariably accompanied by a burial money benefit, and thus a twofold insurance is secured under a single contribution, which is an advantage to the insured. The old-age pay was formerly granted as a part of the same insurance, but it was soon found advisable to separate it from the sickness and burial money, and make it a distinct contract. As all sickness pay ceases at 70 years of age, the best plan is for the labourer who has joined in early manhood to effect an insurance for old-age pay, to commence at 70 years, as soon as his circumstances become easier, from his children ceasing to be a burden to his means. His position would thus become one of independence. So long as the man is able to work, his maintenance is obtained by his wages; if struck down by illness, there is the weekly payment from the society, which may be claimed for two years without deduction, and when reduced to half-pay, the surplus fund may, if the board direct, be made to help him. Cases which are reduced to half-pay are commonly aided from this fund, so as to receive three-fourths of the amount of full pay. The member is thus secured against want, whether well or ill, till he reaches the age of 70 years. He should then commence as a recipient of old-age pay. An insurance securing him 4s. a week for life would receive from the surplus fund an additional 2s. or 2s. 8d. When this admirable application of surplus money was first made, which was on the suggestion of the founder of the society, the directors allowed it to commence from the date of the next preceding valuation. In some cases, payments of 10l. or 12l. thus became due to old men and women who had never had so much money in their lives, and who shed tears of joy when it was placed, without any previous intimation, in their hands, and they were further informed of additions to be made to their future weekly allowances. It is right to add that, with the exception of a small amount which was in the early days of the society subscribed by honorary members and benevolent people, under the impression that a friendly society is a charity, the capital is the accumulation of the contributions of the benefit members, together with the savings in the management, which is upwards of 30 per cent within the margin allowed for expenditure. With reference to the sickness pay ceasing at 70 years of age, it may be noted that this is as far as such a provision can go. Of late, the Registrar of Friendly Societies and some actuaries have recommended 65 years as the limit, against which there is nothing to be said unless that the earlier date of 65 strengthens the foolish prejudice, carefully fanned by the managers of pauperising public-house clubs, who tell their dupes that sickness pay should be available in a good club for the term of their natural lives! We cannot, however, insure sickness pay for the breaking up of the constitution in old age. "The days of our age are threescore years and ten, and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow." The insurance against sickness must cease at the common limit, and those who survive it should be provided with the superannuation allowance.
The "endowment" insurance is but little used by the farm labourer. Women servants, however, have a fancy for it. An endowment of 10l. to be paid at the end of 7 years costs 2s. 2d. a month, a sum which a careful servant is oftentimes able to save. The same amount payable at the end of ten years from commencement of the insurance costs 1s. 6d. a month. Here is an opportunity for a labourer's daughter who gets into a good place, which is often turned to account, and by and bye the girl reaps the benefit of her forethought by the possession of a little dowry. The probability is that a girl who saves something of her wages, instead of wasting them in dress and trinkets composing the requisites of fashionable life below stairs, becomes a prudent wife to some respectable young fellow, and that the two are enabled to keep clear of rented furniture and travelling bagmen. Again, in cases where parents save something towards paying an apprentice-fee for the boy, they will take an endowment insurance, payable at the end of fourteen or fifteen years, which costs a 1s. or 11d. a month according to the term agreed upon. In case of the death of their nominee, or death of the father, the money is returned. Endowments are a better investment than deposits in the savings banks. In the first place, the interest paid on the contributions is a little more than that commonly paid in the old savings banks, and considerably more than that which is paid in the Post Office Banks, which at present does not exceed 2½ per cent.; and in the next, it is not so easy to realise the amount of contributions paid for an endowment before its completion as it is to withdraw the deposit from the bank. And such are the common trials of the wage-paid classes that they are often pressed to encroach, and they do encroach, on the small sum they have been able to put into the bank. But in the case of the endowment the society will interpose. If the pressure is such that in the judgment of the board the endowment policy should be turned into cash before it is complete, the amount of contributions, with a trifling deduction, is returned. Otherwise the board will decline to return the money; and the member is benefited in the long run, though for a time compelled, as it were, to save in spite of himself. No persons are warmer in their acknowledgements for the adoption of such a course towards them than those who have struggled on with their payments till the term is complete, and they receive their money according to their contract with the society. They are pretty sure to want a new endowment, and there are cases where, when No. 2 is complete, they will come for another. The habit to save something monthly has become confirmed, and they appear to like the notion of continuing to be benefit members of the society. This excellent insurance has been hitherto thought too good by the foes of friendly society insurances, "the companies," to be suffered to fall into the hands of the Postmaster-General. We would again, and notwithstanding the discouragements which led Lord Hartington to withdraw his bill last session, empowering the Post Office to grant further burial money insurance, submit its claims. It is admirably suited to the development of provident habits among the industrial and labouring classes, and it entails very little trouble and expense in the way of agency and management. In truth, the endowment ought to have been granted at the Post Office before any other insurance, and had it been practicable, it should even have had precedence over the establishment of Post Office Savings Banks.
When a person wishes to become an "endowment" member of the society, the agent gives him a blank declaration paper, which he fills up with his name, age, occupation, residence, and the amount for which he wishes to join, and further states in writing the amount of the monthly contribution (for which he refers to the society's tables), to be paid for the same. If the proposal is made in behalf of a nominee, the age of the nominee and parentage and residence are also stated. The declaration paper is then transmitted by the agent to the secretary, who lays it before the board of directors in the district to which the agency belongs. The policy, which is issued in such cases almost as a matter of course, is filled up, signed at the board by three directors, entered in the society's register by the secretary, who numbers it, and sends it to the agent, who gives it to the new member, with a little card on which the contributions are entered. The policy recites the conditions, quoted from the rules, on which the society is to pay, and with which the member must comply under the penalty of fines or forfeiture. The contributions are to be paid bi-monthly to the agent, who does not go about among the members to collect them, but receives them at his office. No difficulty occurs, and no special commission is so much as thought of for a transaction which consists in receiving money and marking the amount on the contribution card against which the agent's initials are placed. A small fine fixed by rule secures promptness of payment, both in the case of the endowment and all other insurances made in the society.
When a person wishes to insure for sickness pay and burial money, the agent supplies him with a declaration paper which he fills up; or, if he cannot write, the agent fills it up for him. Any false statement in it vitiates all subsequent claim. The candidate states his name, age, residence, occupation, and the amount he wishes to secure in sickness and burial money, and what is to be paid for it. He answers certain questions relating to his constitution, and signs his declaration. A paper is sent to the proposer's medical attendant, containing questions of the same character, and a third paper is filled up by the agent. Evidence of age is also required, and then the case is complete for the decision of the board. About ten per cent, of the applications for sickness and burial money are declined, great care being used to take none but healthy candidates. Nor will the society grant an insurance to a labourer which would secure him an equal amount of money from its funds in sickness to that which he can earn in health. A man whose wages are 15s. a week would be allowed to insure as high as 12s. in sickness.
When sickness pay is claimed, the member sends a paper declaring "on" the funds of the society, which is guaranteed by the certificate of the medical attendant, who states what the illness is. There are some illnesses for which sickness pay cannot be claimed. At the expiration of one week from the day on which the agent receives the declaration full pay is due. So long as the medical certificate continues to be renewed from week to week, pay is to be made. This is remitted in the way most convenient to the member. The agent uses due vigilance, and if imposition were attempted, its chance of success is small indeed, while fraudulent claims would be dealt with according to law. As a rule, a sick man is but too glad to be sufficiently restored to health to be able to resume his work and to declare "off" the funds. The declarations often express very proper sentiments of gratitude to the Almighty for restoration to health, and their satisfaction at being no longer burdens on the fund. The percentage of sick members in this society is commonly less than half the percentage of sick members in societies where the claimant is under the espionage of the stewards. So far from there being any argument in favour of espionage as compared with the system adopted, the weight of evidence is the other way. It is in favour of the medical certificate and due care on the part of the agent.
Burial money is paid as directed by the Act, the provisions of which are incorporated in the rules of the society? Old-age pay is remitted as sickness pay is made, the convenience of the recipient being taken into account. The agency of 100 or 150 members is an office which can be conveniently and efficiently managed by country postmasters of ordinary intelligence, or other trustworthy persons able to keep accounts correctly.
The cost of sickness pay for 10s. a week, together with 8l. burial money, in the case of a man 25 years of age at joining the society, is 1s. 8d. a month, or 1l. a year; for 12s. a week and 10l. at death, he would pay 24s. a year. For the additional sum of 10s. a year, he would secure old-age pay, commencing at 70, and lasting for the remainder of his life. Under the present conditions of the society, he would receive about 2s. a week as a bonus, and in addition to his pension.
If he preferred to wait till he was 35 before securing old-age provision, 5s. a week would cost him 16s. 4d. a year. That the amount of such contributions could be defrayed by labourers in districts where the wages are good is shown by the sums which they are at present lavishing on their beer-house clubs. With such advantages as those offered by the Kent Friendly Society, it will be interesting to ask in what way the farm labourers of Kent avail themselves of them? All able-bodied labourers in Kent have the opportunity of raising themselves by means of this excellent institution to a position which would enable them to dispense with assistance from the poor-rate, excepting under unusual pressure, when they might properly claim its assistance. With the exception of an inconsiderable proportion compared with the number of labourers in this populous county, and comprising the best of them, farm labourers can with great difficulty be brought to join the society. It is true that no money is spent on annual festivals, and doubtless an attraction which has an influence over the rural classes is thereby lost, and so long as the law which will allow the managers to spend a large sum if they pleased in the comparatively useless effort to attract the attention of labourers by advertisements and placards, but will not allow one farthing in the best of all advertisements, a well-conducted annual festival, continues in force, so long must this advantage be foregone. But the principal obstacle to the progress of the society among the farm labourers is their fear that by joining it they will lose the provision of the rate, to which apparently to themselves they contribute either nothing at all or else contribute more than is right under the compounding system in force. When the society was first established, many of the employers persuaded their labourers to join; and paid or assisted the new members for a time in their contributions. All such assistance proved insufficient to retain the bulk of them, who, after paying considerable sums to the society, deserted it and returned to their wallowing in their pauperising beer-house clubs. The main difficulty from that time to this, a period of upwards of forty years, is to raise these men by means of the society above pauperism. And although it succeeds in many cases in effecting such rescue, the effort is rendered doubly arduous by the obstacles already noticed.
We have thus endeavoured to assist the reader to form a just opinion of the farm labourer with regard to his ability to secure an independent provision. With certain exceptions, by no means numerous, he is unwilling to exchange the dole provided for him by others for an honestly earned independence of his own winning. And inasmuch as he has framed the benefit society in such wise that it will meet his requirements, and is thereby injuring himself morally and socially, and at the same time unjustly burdening the ratepayer, the conditions which have induced him to this downward and mischievous course must be taken into account before remedial measures can be applied. In addition to the alterations already referred to in the administration of the laws of relief and of the mode of collecting the rate, certain regulations relating to members of benefit societies might be adopted by boards of guardians with advantage, which we shall next consider.
Who does not see that a difference should be made in the treatment of the member of a trustworthy society and him of the club in which the rate is virtually the superannuation fund, when each is compelled to seek relief from the board of guardians? If the latter were enabled by the Registrar of Friendly Societies (who should be empowered to obtain and furnish information on which an opinion of the merits of the society might be formed) to distinguish the good from the bad, and were further aided by the Poor Law Board supplying the principle which to the best of their judgment they were to apply in such cases, they would render indirect but most powerful assistance in the reform of the friendly societies of the rural poor.
At present there is much confusion in dealing with applicants who belong to these institutions. By some boards, not perhaps so numerous as in bygone years, relief, other than the house, is denied; by others, an allowance dependent in part on the amount paid by the club is granted; in some, medical relief; but by none is enquiry made whether the club is good or good for nothing, in order to determine the amount, or the refusal, of relief.
The following suggestions, which may perhaps help to elicit better, are offered in order to obtain such alterations as will encourage self-reliance and promote the moral good of the labouring classes:—
(1) Boards of guardians to authorise relief to be granted to applicants belonging to approved friendly societies where the sickness pay is in their opinion insufficient.
(2) The refusal of relief, other than the house, to applicants being members of sharing-out or other clubs not deserving of confidence.
(3) Strict treatment of able-bodied male paupers of indifferent or bad character; thus making a difference between them and able-bodied paupers whose want resulted from their misfortune and not from their fault.
(4) That able-bodied married paupers of the latter class, and aged and infirm married paupers, be allowed to live in conformity with the provision that husband and wife shall dwell together till death them do part.
(5) All occupiers of houses to pay rates on the rateable value. No composition in lieu thereof to be permitted.
There was a fair probability of indirectly gaining the last-named alteration in the extension of the franchise; but the session of 1869 witnessed an alteration which, in its bearing on the occupiers of small tenements, tends to perpetuate the pernicious view commonly taken by them of the poor-rate, and imposition by farming their rates. An enlargement of the powers of the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and certain alterations in the law relating to friendly societies, are needed, in order to secure the annual audit of accounts, and the periodical valuation of the societies. Such information should then be tabulated in the Registrar's reports, and thus be available to the guardians. But they would need no help from the Registrar in dealing with applicants belonging to uncertified farm labourers' benefit clubs of the common type until their managers began to improve them.
Such, then, is the nature of the work, so far as the Poor Law is concerned, and the alterations which appear to be necessary if the degradation of our rural poor is to be arrested, and their natural efforts for independence to be stimulated and developed. We would destroy or alter nothing in the Poor Law, or its administration, which is good and serviceable, but would amend it in those points in which it is working mischief to the labouring classes and loss and injury to the community.
The second part of this reform, which should on no account be postponed till the regulations for poor-relief are amended, is that which would develope and consolidate a system as complete and distinct in itself as that of the Poor Law, of the insurances of the wage-paid classes who dwell within the verge of pauperism.
While, on the one hand, labourers, whether agricultural, mining, or manufacturing, should be discouraged as much as possible from resorting to the rate, on the other, a trustworthy and easily understood system of insurance should be offered to them under Government supervision.
Effort has already been made to obtain such a boon to the working classes by the directors of the Kent Friendly Society and various boards of guardians, agricultural and clerical associations in Kent, by urging on the attention of the Duke of Montrose, when Postmaster-General, the proposal for an extension of the 27th and 28th Vic. cap. 43, by which certain insurances may be effected at the Post Office. The memorialists prayed that the sums payable at death might be granted as low as 5l., and that "endowments" might be obtainable; and, lastly, that such a system might be established as would allow labourers to secure, by a single policy of insurance obtainable from the Post Office, sums, in sickness, from six shillings a week and upwards, together with burial money from 5l. and upwards. The objections with which the proposal for sickness pay and burial money were met were fairly disposed of by a deputation of the memorialists. Nor has any valid argument against the proposal been advanced, unless that is held to be valid which consists in the unwillingness of influential officers of the Post Office, who do not view it at present with favour, and whose benevolent exertions for the benefit of the insuring public entitle their opinion to respect. It remains to be seen whether, by the sagacious counsels and guidance of the successor of the Duke of Montrose, the co-operation of those who now stand aloof might not be obtained. The argument that the good of the community, and especially of the labouring classes of the lower degree, may be secured and promoted by such a measure will not, we are sure, be without its weight with them. The Chief Commissioner, Mr. Tremenheere, endorses, in the report already alluded to, the opinion that this proposal is one which "is well deserving further consideration."
The principal details of this proposal may here be briefly stated:—
Sickness pay and burial money to be offered in a single insurance, to healthy male persons under 36 years of age, from 6s. a week, for a term of weeks, with 5l. at death, to 20s. a week with 20l. at death. All contributions, and the claim for sickness pay, to cease at 70 years of age.
In order to encourage respectable labourers to join early, there should be but two scales of contributions; one for persons under 26 years, and the other (which would be higher in amount for the same benefits) for persons upwards of 26 and not exceeding 35 years of age.
In addition to this twofold insurance, a third benefit should be added (at the option of the parties contracting), for an annuity to commence when the sickness pay ceases. This might be, in some cases, included in one insurance; in others it would form a second and separate insurance.
Monthly and bimonthly contributions to be paid at the nearest money order office or post office selected, and the postmaster to be the local agent. A small fine, in case of negligence in payments, will secure punctuality. The whole cost to be defrayed by a portion of the contributions set apart for a management fund. The whole of the machinery and its management are already in fair working order, having been established, in 1864, by the Act already referred to. The expenses of the system, on its introduction, would be a very small addition to those already incurred. The staff at head-quarters might probably need increasing; and the plan adopted, we believe, in the Essex County Provident Society, of travelling inspectors, to certify in certain sickness cases, would, if approved and acted upon, necessitate some additional outlay. The agency staff, with the medical referees, is already secured under the Act. We trust that the recommendation of the Commission in Agriculture that further consideration may be devoted to this proposal will be granted, and that it may be tested by the scrutiny of a friendly societies commission.
The adoption of such a system would at once attract to itself the moral influence which the gentry, the medical profession, and the clergy possess. The support at present lavished upon untrustworthy benefit societies would be at once withdrawn, and though subscriptions might continue in behalf of an annual festival, in which all good societies might join with the Post Office branch, we should hear of no more bolstering up unsound societies by contributions from landowners and others. It would also receive the powerful support of the guardians. It would be a safeguard against the establishment of new and fraudulent clubs, whose managers, concealed and at a distance, may be compared to the fowler who catches the birds in his evil net. It would prevent the formation of new clubs. For the same answer which is now given to the proposal to establish a savings bank of the old style would be made to the promoters of new societies. They would be referred to the nearest post office. And it is, lastly, no unreasonable anticipation that a fair percentage of our best and steadiest young labourers would, as in the case of the Kent Friendly Society, avail themselves of such advantages, with the best results on their own present and future condition, even if the obstacles of the Poor Law remained untouched, and that their example and influence would not be lost on others.
The proposition which has found favour with most advocates of the reform of friendly societies, "to dissociate them from the public-houses," is impracticable. It has been "recommended unanimously" by a committee of Convocation, and gains such general assent that the expression of the opinion that the attempt ought not to be made to interfere with them by legislation is given with unwillingness. Much anxious consideration of the question fails, however, to show how such interference can be reconciled with the liberty of the citizen. It would be the better course (granting that it could be made illegal for societies to meet at public-houses) that the managers and members should themselves reform and improve their societies, under influences brought to bear upon them, rather than that a crusade against public-house benefit clubs should be persisted in. The practical way to advance this reform is to establish in convenient local centres, such as the money order offices and the larger country post offices, a system of sickness-pay and burial-money insurances which will provide all healthy young men who are fairly remunerated for their labour with the means of raising themselves above the abject condition of paupers. And, pari passu with such provision, to make the labouring classes of this country fully understand that, with good wages, they will not be permitted such free access to the rate as they now possess, and that far from being a matter of indifference to them whether the rate is large or small, it will be to their advantage in every way to reduce the burden of the same. The application of the principles advocated in these pages should be confided to the experience and discretion of the guardians, in so far as they relate to the laws of relief. The two systems, of the Poor Law and of the friendly society, would have their respective spheres in which, without coming into collision, they might act for the good of all. If there were no higher ground for urging the work of reform than a saving in the cost of the rate, in agricultural districts overburdened with rates, it has yet a strong claim on the attention of the legislature. But there are higher reasons than those of a pecuniary character, to which all who are anxious for the welfare of their fellow-countrymen cannot be indifferent. Let it be remembered that mutual sympathy and goodwill between the classes commonly called the ratepayers and the poor are greatly weakened by the present system of collecting and dispensing the funds of the rate: that to such a depth of moral and social degradation have the farm labourers of this country commonly fallen that very few of them can be prevailed upon, where they have the opportunity, to set about the task of providing for themselves, and still less for their relations: that all is squandered in reliance on provision from the rate: that, lastly, the injury is by no means confined to the farm labourers, but is shared more or less by all. Nor must it be forgotten that the really poor and destitute are to be included among those who are thus injured, for in consequence of the embarrassing position taken by the pauper labourer, they oftentimes receive less consideration and assistance than they merit. The infirm and helpless among the strictly poor claim more attention. These, with the waifs and strays of the human race, who are houseless and homeless, who are destitute and afflicted, constitute the proper subjects of the Poor Law. But that the farm labourer, who has a comfortable home, a settled occupation, sufficient wages to support him sick or well, should arrest and apply to his own use funds raised for the miserable, is a reproach not only to him but to the legislation which does not teach him better.
There are other points affecting the condition of the labourer to which allusion can only here be made. In addition to the improvement of the cottage, its occupant should be as secure in possession as any other house-tenant. The education of the labourer, and the best way to give it, the wages and food, are questions of great importance. But, second to religion alone, and before all others, come those which we have endeavoured, however imperfectly, to deal with in these pages—the bearing of the Poor Law, and the friendly societies of the labourer. Let him be encouraged to form habits of self-reliance; let him clearly see the way by which he may secure his independence without any danger of his savings being made to benefit the ratepayers and not himself; let not his social and domestic relation be disturbed without urgent cause. He will then begin to improve, and, by prudence and industry, will be enabled to spend his days on the spot which is endeared to him by early and intimate associations, and by the ties of family: in lieu of submitting to the dreary reality of being parted from home, and wife and children, in his old age, and dragging out an enfeebled existence as an indoors' pauper. All the human influences which promote his happiness will thus be strengthened and preserved. Strength will be gained in that part of our social system which is at present weak, and the cause of weakness in the community. The effort to attain an honest independence by self-help, in union with one's neighbours and friends, has no evil in it. It promotes the welfare of the individual, and the public good.
Note.—The following statement was submitted to Mr. Bruce, the Home Secretary, and Mr. Goschen, the President of the Poor Law Board, who recently received a deputation urging inquiry into the state of friendly societies, certified and uncertified:—
"1. That the state of burial societies, according to the Report of the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies, requires attention with a view to their reform.
"2. That notwithstanding the certificate of the Registrar that their rules are in conformity with the law, there is reason to believe that a large proportion of the certified friendly societies are in an unsound state.
"3. That uncertified benefit societies exist in considerable numbers, which, in addition to the insecurity of their funds, are framed in such a manner as to secure to themselves a release from the burden of aged and infirm members, whose maintenance is forthwith suffered to fall upon the provision of the poor-rate.
"4. That the effect upon the development of friendly societies of the administration of poor-relief needs inquiry in the various Unions throughout the country.
"5. That provision for sickness, old age, and burial might be secured by industrious and prudent artisans and labourers, at a cost not exceeding that commonly paid by them into unsafe and uncertified benefit societies, provided that trustworthy insurances, suited to their requirements, were placed within their reach.
"6. That in order to secure the due care and administration of friendly societies, a revision of the powers of the Registrar is desirable.
"7. That, judging from discussions in both Houses of Parliament, and opinions expressed elsewhere, the advantage of instituting inquiries into friendly societies is now commonly admitted.
"8. That … such investigation would be best conducted by means of a commission for the purpose of inquiry—
- "(1) Into the state of burial and other societies.
"(2) The bearing of the Poor Law upon them.
"(3) The means of providing insurances suited to the wage-paid classes.
"(4) And providing for their due supervision."
The foregoing paper bears the signatures of peers, members of Parliament, and others, who have devoted attention to the question in its various bearings. The Manchester Unity and the Foresters also supported the deputation.
Since these pages were in type, the death of Mr. Tidd Pratt has caused a vacancy in the Registrarship. An opportunity is thus afforded for introducing changes which may secure improvements in the office.
- The Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons, and Women in Agriculture, after reporting that the attention of four of the Assistant-Commissioners was specially directed to the subject of benefit societies, report? that it is "one of far too wide a nature, embracing as it does the town as well as the country populations, to be callable of being exhaustively dealt with in the course of our enquiries."
- "The difficulties in the way of forming sound benefit clubs in the agriculcultural districts are noticed by the Hon. Edward Stanhope as involving (inter alia) the uncertain way in which boards of guardians deal with the fact of a man belonging to a club or not.
"Some never recognise in giving relief the fact of a man belonging to a club; others do take it into consideration, and some refuse relief altogether. More often they are guided by no fixed or uniform rule."
Mr. Stanhope justly remarks:—
"It is most surprising that the question which yields to no other in importance—What is the best way of administering out-door relief so as to give encouragement to provident habits?— is not only not answered by an authoritative interpretation of the principle which should govern such cases but is actually left to be answered by each board of guardians for itself."
Upon this Mr. Stanhope proceeds to add his opinion that further "enquiry is imperatively needed."
- "Happily this enquiry has brought out the fact that the earnings of the best class of agricultural labourers in permanent employ are now, generally speaking, such as to afford them the means of living, and maintaining their families in decency and comfort."—Commission … in Agriculture.
- The following extracts are from the report of the Commission in Agriculture:—
"There can be no doubt," says Mr. P. A. Norman, Assistant-Commissioner, "but that the Poor Law has a direct tendency to weaken those feelings of self-reliance and independence among the labouring class on the development of which qualities the amelioration of that class must necessarily depend."
The following is of interest:—
"The great and effectual bar to the formation of habits of independence is the existence of a poor law. Why should a labourer provide against sickness and old age when he has no interest in so doing? If by the age of 65 he is able to cease work and purchase an annuity of 2s. 6d. a week until death, the guardians, very properly, give him nothing. If he has lived freely and saved nothing, the board give him 2s. 6d. a week. Out-of-door relief is a direct premium on improvidence. No class in the community spends so much in proportion to income on personal gratification as the average labourer. He supports all the beer and public houses … The low condition of the labourer, whether in respect of wages and external circumstances, or of mental or spiritual enlightenment, is ascribable to the Poor Law. The first step for his elevation must be its gradual repeal. I have been an active member of the board of guardians for twenty years—a magistrate for eighteen." (From evidence of the Rev. Preb. Wilkinson.)
Mr. G. Culley, Assistant-Commissioner, writes thus:—
"The influence adverse to the fostering of provident habits is the present administration of the poor law, and especially the lax and uncertain manner in which out-door relief is given."
The evidence and remarks of the Commissioners on the subject are of special interest, (See Reports and Appendix in loco.)
Sir Stafford Northcote, the President of the Social Science Congress recently held at Bristol, spoke as follows:—
"Two things only were necessary. First, you must raise the labourer's standard of life; and, secondly, you must clear away all obstacles and give him fair play in striving after it. … Make the labourer feel that his earnings will be in proportion to his work, and much will be effected. But the deadening influence of the Poor Law must be counteracted. The system of Post Office Savings Banks—for which we are so much indebted to the present Prime Minister—might be extended; improved cottages, garden allotments, security for his clubs and investments, would all be legitimate and useful helps."
- See pamphlet, "Friendly Societies versus Beerhouse Clubs," by the writer, reprinted in Appendix to "The Report of the Commission in Agriculture," p. 98, art. 228. Also published by Ridgway, Piccadilly.
- See "Life of a Farm Labourer," 'Cornhill Magazine,' 1864, by the writer.
- The following is from a local paper, dated October 23 ult.:—
"Poor-Rates.—In Preston, 457 persons have been summoned for non-payment of the poor-rate laid in April last. About one-half of the summonses was settled out of court; in several cases the defaulters were excused on account of extreme poverty, arising from the depressed condition of the cotton trade; and in the remaining cases orders for immediate payment were made. It transpired that in many instances the ratepayers had entered into agreements with their landlords that the latter should pay the rates (2d. or 3d. per week being added to the rent on that account), and that the landlords had pocketed both rents and rates, and left the tenant to bear the brunt of the law. On Monday, Mr. Stephenson, the assistant-overseer, intimated that every one of such landlords might be sued in the County Court for the recovery of the amount paid in lieu of rates. At the Borough Revision Court, on Friday, several persons lost their votes through similar dishonesty on the part of landlords, and they also were advised to sue for the recovery of the amounts paid as rates."
- The Earl of Lichfield obtained a return of the number of paupers in union workhouses in England and Wales who had formerly been members of benefit societies. The number was, in August, 1867, 4015, Subsequent enquiry elicited the fact that such persons were about 12 per cent, of the whole number of male paupers at that date who were inmates of the workhouses.
- No one has attacked the Poor Law with more hearty good-will than Mr. Corrance, member for East Suffolk, who maintains with Sydney Smith that it must not be amended, but abolished. "It fails," says Mr. Corrance, "through the absolute failure of the principle upon which it is built—the test. The vagrant laughs at it; the aged and the sick are not fit objects for it, and children are beyond its scope. It had a work to do, and it did that work. Since that time it is obsolete. In these days our agents must be the actuary, the friendly society, the schoolmaster, and the surgeon. That a vast work of legislation lies before us, let no one doubt not less than in 1834."
- Compare the system adopted in Belgium, p. 77.—Ed.
- In some parts of England it was a common contrivance of the farmers under the former Poor Law to pay their labourers a fixed sum, and "make up" by an additional grant from the rate, sufficient to support them and their families; by which means the parson or vicar, who was rated on his tithes, and owners of property not agricultural, were compelled to pay part of the wages of the farm labourers. A mere abuse of this kind may raise a smile at the expense of the ratepayers thus victimised by the proceedings in vestry of other days, but the evil inflicted on labourers in thus degrading them into paupers is no trifling matter, and its effects are felt to this day.
- The number of these clubs is unknown. They have been estimated at 100,000, which would seem too high. Mr, Stanhope found them in Kent to be in the proportion of three to two certified societies. They appear, however, to be increasing, and at present keep better societies off their ground.
- "The clergy and the landowners have a great deal to answer for in this respect. On the annual feast-day of a club the proceedings commence by the members going in procession to church. The clergyman of the parish is asked to preach a sermon, and is threatened in the event of his refusal with the transfer of the place of worship to the Dissenting chapel. In very few cases he is firm enough to resist this pressure, and generally he not only preaches but in the absence of the chief landowner presides at the dinner. Neither of them, although they subscribe to the funds, know anything, except what they are told, of the state of the funds of the club, or of its real security; but the apparent sanction which they give to its proceedings induces many men to become members without any further enquiry."—Hon. E. Stanhope, Commission … in Agriculture.
- Mr. Tidd Pratt recommends medical attendance as one of the benefits to be secured by the friendly society. There are, however, instances of very good societies in which such an arrangement is not practicable. In parish societies, or where the agency of a larger society comprises a considerable number of members in small compass, medical insurance may with advantage be added. The cost is generally 4s. to 5s. per member per annum. The members should be encouraged to form a "medical club" where practicable.
- The allotments are half an acre. Rent is 2l. per acre. Coals are sold at half-price, or 6d. and 7d. per cwt.
- At present all have their own rule of dealing with members of friendly societies; for instance, at Canterbury, medical relief only is given to the member of a club.
At Hollingbourne, in addition to medical treatment, "in all cases where the club money does not exceeed 10s. a week, and does not exceed the amount of relief ordered for the families of able-bodied men not in any club, one gallon of flour for each child is given after the first month. Where the sickness pay exceeds 10s. a week, no relief is given beyond the medical order. Where the sickness pay does not exced 3s. a week, no deduction is made from the ordinary scale of relief in consideration thereof."
In Maidstone Union, "in the case of a man with wife and four children receiving 10s. from his club per week, the board will order 4 or 5 gallons of flour weekly, but no money. If the man were in no club, they would give him an order for the house; but if the illness is severe or of long duration, 3s. a week and five gallons of flour. In the first week flour only is given."
In the Mailing Union, whatever the man is insured for he has for himself, and the board relieves the wife and family on their scale, which is a liberal one. The three unions last named are adjacent.
In the union of Ashford an applicant member of a club with 10s. sickness pay, having a wife and four children, receives 5s. a week from the board. If not in any club, the board will give him 10s. a week. In some unions no rule is laid down.
- See the appendix to "The Report of the Commission in Agriculture," p. 101; or the pamphlet, "Friendly Societies v. Beer-house Clubs" (Ridgway, Piccadilly) in which the objections are dealt with.
- Report of the Commission.
- "The liberty of the subject" appears to have been strangely overlooked in discussing the question of beer-house and other benefit societies since Mr. Gladstone's speech in Parliament on Post Office insurance in 1864, when stress was laid upon it.
- It is estimated that 2,000,000l. a year are saved to the poor-rate by friendly societies. If such is the saving by means of, societies commonly insolvent, it is only reasonable to anticipate that a much larger sum would be raised for the support of the labouring classes by their own means, thus securing a further reduction in the rate, if only their insurances were of a trustworthy character.