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is plain that such rates would have to be far higher than those required by societies whose members work gratuitously; and it is also plain that at higher rates the rogues would get no members, and their schemes would fail. Therefore, the fraudulent societies have no hope of existence unless they, so to speak, undersell the honest ones, by promising larger benefits for the same money, or similar benefits for less money.
The effect is immediate. Such a new society is started, let us say, in an agricultural neighbourhood, where a fairly well-managed one has existed for a number of years. The older society suddenly finds its flow of new entrants checked, and witnesses, also, the ebbing away of some of its members. Its managers discover that these have joined the new society; in an agony of needless fear, lest their number should dwindle, and ignorantly clinging to the often entirely erroneous maxim, that number of members necessarily multiplies stability of funds, they think it necessary to lower their previously fairly safe rates to the competition scale of the rogues. It is easy to see which side must win in this war. While unprincipled, unvouched, uncertified organizations exist, it seems almost in the nature of things that societies on sound basis cannot continue really useful. If they keep up the true necessary cost, they exist, indeed, but do no service, for members cease to enter. And until some method can be devised which may prevent the fraudulent projector from com. peting injuriously with the honest organization, the majority of our Sick Benefit Societies must continue to be, as they are, financially
I will now examine the direction in which we might look for remedies for this very serious disadvantage of our present system.
The first of these, one would think, would be self-amendment. But self-amendment seems hopeless, because, as a rule, the managers of the societies will not take measures to render themselves secure. The proof of this statement is to be found, firstly, in the conclusion of Mr. Ansell's communication I have given, wherein he says, that of the 169 societies out of 200 which he had found unsafe, "the number which have taken any adequate measures to retrieve their position or have been wound up, does not exceed seventeen; secondly, in the Chief Registrar's statement of regret "to have to report that only a comparatively very small number of societies appeared to have taken measures to remove the serious deficiencies shown in their
valuations;" thirdly, in the quotations I shall presently make of the Hull and East Riding Friendly Societies Association's reasons for desiring the abolition of compulsory valuations; and fourthly, from this most suggestive sentence (which I quote from January,
1884, issue of the Friendly Societies' Journal, in its Review, p. 11, of Mr. Abbot's Report of his Valuation of the London United District, Ancient Order of Foresters). "The deficiency in the whole District is £258,807, or 7s. 10d. in the pound. Although it is best to be on the solvent side, yet there is nothing in this result to cause any uneasiness!" The writer, to be sure, goes on to suggest, that to get one per cent. higher interest for the fund would wipe off £70,000 of the deficiency, but even supposing that additional interest got by a wave of the hand, says not a word of how the remaining deficiency of about 6s. in the pound is then to be supplied. What can we hope for in the way of any general self-amendment in the face of such a set of facts and opinions as these ?
The quinquennial valuation, which I have already referred to as the grand feature of the Friendly Societies' Act of 1875, is a measure of great potentialities, and has already done good in making some swindling societies withdraw from registration altogether, and relieve the nation of any conceivable responsibility for their fraud, which the issuing of a registration certificate is too often supposed by ignorant people to imply. But the mere fact of having a valuation made, and a copy sent to the Registrar, has but little general effect in correcting the financial errors of societies found deficient, and is no guarantee of their solvency. I have published elsewhere an instance of a Friendly Society (managed by ignorant men, I will not impute dishonesty to them) whose committee, though they paid through their secretary (and entered in the annual account handed to each member) an item of £5 for the making of the valuation at the end of 1880, yet never asked the secretary to produce the valuation they paid for, thinking it wiser not to look at it themselves, or show it to the members, because, as one of them said to me himself, "they knew it was against them!"
The existence of the Valuation Balance Sheet (which need never cover more than three lines) is of but little use if only shut up in the Registry Office, or hung up, among many other papers, in a central lodge-room, to which none but officials make any stated visits whatever. The true use of the valuation is to let the poor men know what the real state of their society is. Therefore a fuller publication of the Valuation Balance Sheet should be urged. But, we shall hear, we must not bring all the private affairs of these provident men before the public eye. Be it so. In fact, the public does not want to examine them; I wish, with all my heart, they were fifty times more inquisitive. Any member of the public simply curious in the matter may go to the Registry and see the valuation of any registered society at the present time; but something might be reasonably done in at least letting members know their own business. For instance, by merely printing distinctive title
pages, the official valuations of societies in each county might be separately published for as many farthings as the two massive blue books for all England now cost shillings. But the most reasonable and effective thing in this direction to be done, seems to me to be the simplest. As the law now requires every member of a Friendly Society to be furnished each year by the managers with a copy of the annual return of income and expenditure, why should not the law require the last Valuation Balance Sheet to be printed on each copy of the annual return, thus assuring its coming into the hands of every member of every society concerned to know truly the state of its affairs? Some parties interested in Friendly Societies (and there are two interests, let us remember, those of members, who want independence, and those of promoters, who want gain) are already organizing an agitation for the repeal of the law requiring valuations to be made. This is a most striking, if unconscious testimony to its salutary effect, as I shall now proceed to show.
A Special Delegate Meeting, representing 3,500 members of the various Friendly Societies of Grimsby and neighbourhood, agreed (Oct. 13, 1882,) upon eleven so-called "reasons" for demanding the Repeal of the Valuation clause in the Act of 1875; and a resolution agreeing with those "reasons" was passed (Feb. 2, 1883), after debate, by the Hull and East-Riding Amalgamated Friendly Societies Association. I subjoin as a specimen of the rest one of the "reasons," premising that the Act allows every Society to choose its own valuer, and that the general dissatisfaction of the "represen tatives," who are unskilled, against the methods of their own "valuers," who are supposed to be skilled, speaks volumes on the importance to solvency of the Valuation returns.
Reason 2 states "that the valuations, as made by the valuers, are misleading and altogether at variance with our experience of lodges. . . . . Also their estimate of assets is not reliable, inasmuch as no allowance is made for new members' contributions," &c.
I only quote the salient points. It is not upon the experience of the officials, but upon that of ascertained sickness, which the valuers must go. And to count as present assets the contributions of future members, as yet non-existent, would be preposterous.
What then, admitting, as I do, the great difficulty of interfering by fresh legislation with existing societies (many of which, be it said, have acted most loyally on the new legal lines), can be done, to save the multitudes of worthy seekers for independence from the pitfalls which surround them now? I would press a measure, a simple, fair, and reasonable one, which would not touch one existing Friendly Society, and against which, therefore, neither the members nor the officials of any existing Friendly Society (sound or rotten) would have any reason, if they had the will, to offer an objection. Leaving every
existing one alone, I would urge that the law "should forbid the establishment of any new Friendly Society, without actuarial certification being given to the reasonable sufficiency of its rates of contribution for securing the benefits its promoters contract to give." Surely, in the interests of fair-dealing and of common national justice, this is not too much protection to ask for the savings of our worthiest working men from cruel fraud and plunder. The enactment of such a measure would send poor working men to ring the joy-bells in every belfry in England if they could foresee the potentiality of its blessing for themselves. For though we cannot, as I wish we could, fly at the very throats of the men whose self-interest and dishonesty make poor men's efforts at providence, sometimes a farce, sometimes a sorrow, often a heart-break, and always a lottery, such a simple measure as I propose would put an end, in this matter, to the cruel rule of
"How so?" I shall be asked. "You will leave them in existence still; they will be as bad as ever; if untouched by your measure, they will be uncorrected too." And this is true; but they will be the last of their kind. The good society, untouched by the new requirement, will stand and flourish by its own goodness. It has its registration now, and need not ask for a new one. "And the bad society? Has it not also its registration now?" Yes, but the registration will not pay its liabilities; bad in itself, it must die soon of its own badness, as thousands of its kind have died, and all are bound to die. And then, far differently from now, the swindlers who have drained the blood of one society will be unable to organize another,1 and the field will be left free, as it should be left, to honest men to do for honest men good honest work on good and honest terms. Such
a measure would go straight to the root of the evil, which is this: that the law at the present time makes it easy for rogues to plunder the providence of the working classes, who (however interested parties may flatter them to the contrary) are often too ignorant to protect their savings from fraud.
I come next to examine objections to the proposal, the chief of which is its "interference."
In this whole controversy there is nothing more thoughtless and more cruel than the only too common exclamation from men who shrink from trouble, "Leave people to themselves; let men learn
(1) At the moment of writing a person named John Miller is under remand for the fourteenth time from Southwark police-court, described as a "promoter and manager," charged with defrauding working people in all parts of the country by inducing them to subscribe to sham benefit societies. Want of space alone prevents my giving the suggestively lengthy catalogue of the successive "ventures" of this [ill-used philanthropist.
VOL. XXXV. N.S.
by experience the folly of trusting to a bad society, and the value of seeking out a good one." In one of the Friendly Societies' Journals I remember seeing the following aphorism, offered to enforce this very point. "A man gathers wisdom by financial loss; like a razor, he is the sharper for being strapped." It is worth while to examine this notion, and see whether experience of the process of being flayed alive be a reasonable compensation to the sufferer for the loss of his skin. Of course the assumption is, that the experience of loss by investing one's savings in a bad society which breaks, will lead the investor to select a better one in which to make provision for sickness and old age. But these advocates of the laissez-faire forget one vital point in the question. The selection of a society is commonly made only once for all, and in early manhood, by lads, for the most part, who possess not the faintest, vaguest notion of what constitutes a sound society, who are generally influenced in their choice by their own fathers or near relatives, and brought up in the false notion of being, in some sort, bound in honour to support with their patronage, as youths, the funds of a society which otherwise may prove insecure at last to their elderly relations. They are either misled by these, or duped by the designing touters of some rotten society. The club exists from year to year, always falling further and further into deficiencies, and at last the poor fellow, when perhaps past middle life, and too old for admission into better societies, finds it come to an utter end. Then, when too late, in the fullest and bitterest way, he "gathers wisdom by financial loss." But of what use is the wisdom? The financial loss is to him financial ruin; his costly knowledge will not weaken his common-sense conclusion that it would be better to be less wise and more provided. The "wisdom" can only teach him to deplore the horrible error which he can nevermore correct, and to begrudge the long vain self-denial, inflicted to escape pauperism, which leaves him to the scanty poor-rate, the workhouse banishment, the parish coffin after all. I would ask Cui bono it may prove to have left this poor fellow to "gather wisdom by financial loss ?" It ruins him; does it benefit any one else? The rate-payer? No. The State? No. The family? No. The swindling official who has been pocketing the member's money to bolster up growing deficiencies, until he himself has reaped his harvest? Certainly; that generous advocate of the poor man's sacred liberty to ruin himself in a blind groping for independence, is the only person who gains through the shameful neglect of this important matter by all but the best of English legislators, and all but the most persistent of English philanthropists. In a word, the leaving poor men alone in the matter, in order that they may learn experience by loss, has no better justification than to say of a man sitting on a powder-barrel and lighting his pipe, "Leave him alone to learn experience; if he