« PreviousContinue »
a board of management, composed mainly of persons originally collectors, exercise the whole authority. The treasurer receives 6241. a year, two committee-men, 8001. a year (Q. 22,422), and six others, 5201. Five of these in addition have collecting books, with the usual profits (Q. 22,406). There are 300 agents; a number of collectors estimated by one member of the committee at 1000, and by another at 1500 to 2000; and lastly, travelling agents or inspectors. The collectors are men educated only to a certain point, just to the standard of the poor people' (Q. 22,385), not the best adapted for understanding figures, or making additions, so that more or less there are deficiencies in almost every collecting book' (Q. 22,383). Their remuneration consists of 25 per cent. on collections and other perquisites, the amount of which must depend on the energy
perseverance of the individual. The solicitor to the society had heard of collecting books realising as much as 301. per week, or 4001. a year. The rules contain no provision for the election of the committee. They are nominally subject to the annual general meeting, but such meetings are a mere farce' (Q. 23,380). The collectors attend the meetings, are not permitted to interfere either directly or indirectly, to speak or make any proposition, but they vote, procure the attendance of members, and are expected to support the management. The meetings take place in Liverpool, in which town only a small proportion of the members reside.
Here is a description of a general meeting of a similar society, the Scottish Legal, at Glasgow. "Q. 11,544. Have you ever heard of the collectors having had their travelling expenses paid to come up to meetings ?-Yes; I have heard it from themselves. Q. 11,545. Was that done frequently ?-Frequently; not only for them, but for their friends, and for any persons whether members or not whom they could influence to attend those meetings, whether through the prospect of a trip to Glasgow or in any other way; . . . each of those collectors who had his party with him took his seat beside his own party, and he would hold up a white handkerchief, and if they did not vote the way he indicated, they had to find their own way back to the locality they came from themselves, and even to look out to pay their own lodgings for the night. Q. 11,546. But if they voted right, they got their travelling expenses and their lodgings ?_Yes, and generally a free table. It is clear that in these cases the committee is practically permanent and absolute, and that the members have no check whatever on their proceedings. All that an ordinary member knows of the society is that the collector, who has induced him to enter it, gives him a card upon which his
weekly payments are entered, calls upon him week by week to receive them, and generally never leaves him alone till he has entered also the names of his family.
But another result of the proprietary rights which are allowed to each collector is that sometimes the owner of the book widow or an old man entirely incapacitated from acting. In such cases the real collection is made by a man at fixed wages, who has no interest in the society, and who, finding that new members, with their entrance fees, pay him better than old ones (Fourth Report, 500), often performs his duty in a careless and unsatisfactory manner. Many poor persons are entirely dropped out of the society, especially if they are doubtful members, and some are actually allowed to lose their rights, without any fault of their own, owing to the omission of the collector to call upon them. That this is a real and not an imaginary grievance is shown by the fact that the secretary to the Royal London Friendly Society calculates that at least two-thirds of the people who become insured in an office and in similar institutions' (the secretary to the Integrity puts the proportion as high as two-thirds or threefifths) allow their policies to lapse, and consequently deprive themselves of benefit.' . A society of this sort may, therefore, be said to live by its lapses, or, in other words, by confiscation of the premiums of its members’ (Fourth Report, 505).
But we are obliged to add that in some of these societies there is not only mismanagement, but also fraud. The Society of St. Patrick's, now called the United Assurance Friendly, which contains 140,000 members, is perhaps the most audacious instance of both; and though there is nothing going on now equal to what used to be in the days of the former secretary,' yet our readers will find in Mr. Stanley's account a good idea of what has gone on and is still going on unchecked in a large society of this type :
In the time of Mr. Treacy (the late secretary), the society was concentrated into him alone. There was never a committee meeting nor an audit, and he did what seemed good in his own eyes. The natural result of this was that claims were unpaid and disputed on frivolous pretexts, and that Mr. Treacy made away with the property of the society to the extent of at least 70001. or 80001. The society in those days had a Roman Catholic character; it worked among the Irish, and was under the patronage of the Roman Catholic clergy. As the scandal grew more and more notorious, an attempt was made by some of the Liverpool priests to introduce a reform, and Mr. Hugh Caraber was put on the committee. When he tried to make his office a reality, he found that such a course did not at all fall in with Mr. Treacy's views; and in the struggle which ensued, Mr. Caraher, backed by some of the independent members of the society, fought
Mr. Treacy and the officials in public meetings and in the law courts for years. But Mr. Treacy, aided by congenial lawyers, and disposing of all the funds, held Mr. Caraher at bay for a long time; and when at length a barren judgment was obtained against him, and he disappeared from public view to avoid attachment, he still held his office, and drew his salary till his death some months after. Meantime, his adherents held the principal offices, and on his death they brought in the present secretary and appointed him to his office, after stipulating with him that he should pay an annuity to the widow of Treacy, who up to the sitting of the Commission in Liverpool occupied a house bought for her with the funds of the society. Not only were all the costs of Mr. Treacy paid out of the funds of the society, but when this gang had wearied out those who sought to reform the management, they celebrated their victory by a banquet of the collectors, and Mr. Norden, the attorney who had defended Treacy; and wound up the proceedings by presenting him with a gold watch, costing 401., also bought from the society's funds, and bearing a complimentary inscription. As might be expected, Mr. Norden is still the consulting solicitor of the society. Their present practices may be seen in detail in the evidence; but though the society is guilty even yet of such minor offences as cooked balance-sheets, fictitious entries of capital, and the embezzlement by committee-men of sums exceeding 701.
, which defalcations have extended unchecked over years, yet there is nothing now worth noticing compared with the grandiose villany of former years.'—Mr. Stanley's Report, p. 30.
Another fact deserving serious attention in connection with these societies is that, consisting as they do to an enormous extent of very young children, they hold out a terrible temptation to unprincipled persons to insure their children, and then to allow them to die. "A large proportion of these children are insured in several different societies, so that the sum paid at the death of a child is far more than sufficient to provide a decent burial. In one case a child was insured · in eight societies, which would have produced 301. at death' (Mr. Stanley's Report, p. 68). Then we find that some of the large burial societies do experience an excessive rate of infant mortality. In the Blackburn Philanthropic it was 1080 under ten years of age out of a total of 2017; in the Chorley Family and the Stalybridge Good Intent it was 40 per cent. under two years of age; and in Macclesfield it has been especially observed that the means adopted in that town to check re-insurance have had a remarkable effect in checking infant mortality (Fourth Report, 574–5).
We do not wish to attach undue importance to these facts. The Commissioners themselves, owing to the unfortunate limitation of their powers, were unable to examine this question thoroughly; but the evidence which they have obtained will
justify us in saying that (whether there is any foundation for this terrible suggestion or not) there is strong ground for removing the temptation to such practices by legislative interference. In the Bill introduced by the present Government, during the past session, it was proposed to limit the amount for which any infant may be insured to such a sum as will suffice to defray the actual cost of burial, and to take measures to prevent re-insurance; and thus to check the evil without discouraging the laudable desire on the part of the working-classes to save themselves from the degradation of seeing their children buried by the parish.
Other proposals in the Government Bill were directed at the radical vice of the system-collection, without any control by the members. Every enrolled member was to have a policy given to him, and was not to be allowed to be struck off the list without due notice; and provisions were inserted to prevent the collectors from being, as at present, the real managers of these societies.
The most melancholy reflection suggested by the above review of the Friendly Societies of this country is, that the allegation of general unsoundness is fully borne out by the facts. Very few,' says Mr. Neison, the well-known actuary, of the whole number are sound' (Q. 1160). Mr. Patteson, an actuary, and one of the Royal Commissioners, speaks of the great majority as 'to a very large extent insolvent' (Q. 28,521).
Amongst the village clubs the process of breaking up through insolvency is said to be going on every day. There is hardly a village or a hamlet of twenty houses and a beershop that has not had its club. There are hardly anywhere one or more clubs that have not failed at need, and disappointed their members, within the memory of persons now living.'
persons now living. (Sir G. Young's Report, The county societies, with about 40,000 members, appear, on the other hand (with the exception of the Essex Provident), to be generally solvent, owing to the high rates which, under actuarial advice,' they think it necessary to exact.
Of the affiliated orders the Commissioners say
* Rough as is the test of capital per head, and totally inapplicable to some classes of societies, and indeed to all new and rapidly increasing bodies, it is probably sufficient to show that the average funds of the great bulk of the branches of the affiliated orders are inadequate to their liabilities' (Fourth Report, 122). "It is fair, however, to add that the spirit of improvement may be said to be abroad, however different
may be their rate of progress. The Manchester Unity may be said to have taken every step towards security, except
the final one of enforcing means to meet an ascertained deficiency' (Fourth Report, 157) of 1,343,0001.'*— Fourth Report, 140.
The other orders are in a still less satisfactory position. In the Order of Druids, with 57,000 members, it is probable that nine-tenths of the lodges, at least, are insolvent, and a large majority of them hopelessly so. But habitual repudiation of their liabilities, by closing the box for a time, or reducing the rate of sick-pay, enable them to pull through' (Mr. Stanley's Report, p. 12). But the General Order is strictly forbidden by the rules to take any cognizance of the financial state of the lodges.
Speaking of ordinary large societies, the Commissioners say that, in point of solvency, the verdict must be against them? (Sir G. Young's Report, p. 6); of railway societies, that “ there is good reason to believe that the financial condition of all these societies is unsound' (Fourth Report, 288); of the general burial societies, with one million members, and an amount of funds member of about 6s. 8d. (Id. 470), that untrustworthy accounts are audited in an equally unsatisfactory manner' (Id. 521).
We need scarcely say that we do not dwell on these points in order to disparage the efforts made by the working-classes to make provision for themselves. No one can fail to recognise the difficulties they have had to contend with in the want of protection against fraud afforded them by the law, and in the injudicious administration, in many cases, of Poor Law relief; or to admire the gallant struggle now being made by many of their number to overtake their liabilities. It is because we desire to point out the necessity of judicious legislation to assist them in those difficulties, and strengthen the hands of those amongst their number who really desire wholesome reform in their administration, that we do not hesitate to set before our readers the magnitude of the task involved.
On the other hand, it is extremely gratifying to record the gradual diminution of the practice of devoting a portion of the funds intended for other purposes, to drink and feasting. Most
* It is sometimes said that they are insolvent only in the remote actuarial sense, and the observation is not devoid of truth, especially as a society composed entirely of an enormous number of men earning their own living, is in a position to meet its financial difficulties by way of levy or increased contributions. But it must be remembered that, so far as regards sick pay, the lodges are all separate societies, standing entirely on their own basis. Only 3168 lodges have been valued, and of these only 26 per cent. have a surplus, and the average deficiency amounts to 31. 128. 3d. per member (or in Lancashire, 5l. 128. 7d.). • At this rate the county of Lancaster should have about double its present capital in order to be able to meet its liabilities; and this does not represent the full amount of the deficiency, for in the case of some of the lodges the liability has been reduced by partial repudiation and by bankruptcy.'– Mr. Stanley's Report, p. 79.