1902 Encyclopedia > Friendly Societies

Friendly Societies




FRIENDLY SOCIETIES, according to the comprehensive definition of the Friendly Societies Act 1875, which now regulates such societies in Great Britain and Ireland, are "societies established to provide by voluntary subscriptions of the members thereof, with or without the aid of donations, for the relief or maintenance of the members, their husbands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, or wards being orphans, during sickness or other infirmity, whether bodily or mental, in old age, or in widowhood, or for the relief or maintenance of the orphan children of members during minority; for insuring money to be paid on the birth of a member’s child, or on the death of a member, or for the funeral expenses of the husband, wife, or child of a member, or of the widow of a deceased member, or, as respects persons of the Jewish persuasion, forthe payment of a sum of money during the period of confined mourning ; for the relief or maintenance of the members when on travel in search of employment, or when in distressed circumstances, or in case of shipwreck, or loss or damage of or to boats or nets; for the endowment of members or nominees of members at any age ; for the insurance against fire to any amount not exceeding £15 of the tools or implements of the trade or calling of the members"—and are limited in their contracts for assurance of annuities to £50, and for assurance of a gross sum to £200. They may be described in a more popular and condensed form of words as the mutual assurance societies of the poorer classes, by which they seek to aid each other in the emergencies aris ing from sickness and death and other causes of distress. A phrase in the first Act for the encouragement and relief of friendly societies, passed in 1793, designating them "societies of good fellowship," indicates another useful phase of their operations.

The origin of the friendly society is, probably in all countries, the burial club. It has been the policy of every religion, if indeed it is not a common instinct of humanity, to surround the disposal of a dead body with circumstances of pomp and expenditure, often beyond the means of the surviving relatives. The appeal for help to friends and neighbours which necessarily follows is soon organized into a system of mutual aid, that falls in naturally with the religious ceremonies by which honour is done to the dead. Thus Archdeacon Gray tells us that in China there are burial societies, termed "long-life loan companies," in almost all the towns and villages. Among the Greeks the GREEK combined the religious with the provident element. From the Greeks the Romans derived their fraternities of a similar kind. The Teutons in like manner had their guilds. Whether the English friendly society owes its origin in the higher degree to the Roman or the Teutonic influence can hardly be determined. The utility of providing by combination for the ritual expenditure upon burial having been ascertained, the next step—to render mutual assistance in circumstances of distress generally—was an easy one, and we find it taken by the Greek GREEK and by our own guilds. Another modification—that the societies should consist not so much of naighbours as of persons having the same occupation-soon arises ; and this is the germ of our trade unions and our city companies in their original constitution. The interest, however, that these enquiries possess is mainly antiquarian, The legal definition of a friendly society quoted above points to an organization more complex than those of the ancient fraternities and guilds, and proceeding upon different principles. It may be that the one has grown out of the other. The common element of a provision for a contingent event by a joint contribution is in both ; but the friendly society alone has attempted to define with precision what is the risk against which it intends to provide, and what should be the contributions of the members to meet that risk.

It would be curious to endeavour to trace how, after the suppression of the religious guilds in the 16th century, and the substitution of an organized system of relief by the poor law of Elizabeth for the more voluntary and casual means of relief that previously existed, the present system of friendly societies grew up. The modern friendly society, particularly in rural districts, clings with fondness to its annual feast and procession to church, its procession of all the brethren on the occasion of the funeral of one of them, and other incidents which are almost obviously survivals of the customs of mediaeval guilds. The last recorded guild was in existence in 1628, and there are records of friendly societies as early as 1634 and 1639. The connecting links, however, cannot be traced. With the exception of a society in the port of Borrowstounness on the Firth of Forth, no existing friendly society is known to be able to trace back its history beyond a date late in the 17th century, and no records remain of any that might have existed in the latter half of tile 16th century or the greater part of the 17th One founded in 1666 was extant in 1850, but it has since ceased to exist. This is not so surprising as it might appear. Documents which exist in manuscript only are much less likely to have been preserved since the invention of printing than they were before; and such would be the simple rules and records of any society that might have existed during this interval—if, indeed, many of them kept records at all. How usual is it for a voluntary society of any kind to die away with the generation of men among whom it was founded ! On the. whole, it seems probable therefore that the friendly society is a lineal descendant of the ancient having wholly died out, but having been kept up from generation to generation in a succession of small and scattered societies.

At the same time, it seems probable that the friendly society of the present day owes its revival to a great extent to the Protestant refugees of Spitalfields, one of whose societies was founded in 1703, and has continued for 176 years among descendants of the same families, whose names proclaim their Norman origin. This society has distinguished itself by the intelligence with which it has adapted its machinery to the successive modifications of the law, and has very recently completely reconstructed its rules under the provisions of the Friendly Societies Acts, 1875 and 1876.

Another is the society of Lintot, founded in London in 1708, in which the office of secretary has for more than half a century been filled by persons of the name of Levesque, one of whom has published a translation of its original rules. No one was to be received into the society who was not a member, or the descendant of a member, of the church of Lintot, of recognized probity, a good Protestant, and well-intentioned towards the queen [Anne] and faithful to the Government of the country. No one was to be admitted below the age of eighteen, or who had not been received at holy communion, and become member of a church. A member should not have a claim to relief during his first year’s membership, but if he fell sick within the year, a collection should be made for him among the members. This society has only 50 members, but its funds exceed £2000. The foreign names still borne by a large proportion of the members show that the connexion with descendants of the refugees is maintained.

The example of providence given by these societies was so largely followed that Sir George Rose’s Act in 1793 recognized the existence of numerous societies, and providedencouragement for them in various ways, as well as relief from taxation to an extent which in those days must have een of great pecuniary value, and exemption from removal nder the poor law. The benefits offered by this statute were readily accepted by the societies, and the vast number of societies which speedily became enrolled shows that Sir George Rose’s Act met a real public want. In the county of Middlesex alone nearly a thousand societies were enrolled within a very few years after the passing of the Act, and the number in some other counties was almost as great. The societies then formed were nearly all of a like kind,- small clubs, in which the feature of good fellowship was in the ascendant, and that of provident assurance for sickness and death merely accessory. This is indicated by one provision which occurs in many of the early enrolled rules, viz., that the number of members shall be limited to 61, 81, or 101, as the case may be. The odd 1 Which occurs in these numbers probably stands for the president or secretary, or is a contrivance to ensure a clear majority. Several of these old societies are still in existence, and can point to a prosperous career extending over (in some cases) more than 100 years—a prosperity based rather upon good luck than upon scientific calculation. Founded among small tradesmen or persons in the way to thrive, the claims for sickness were only made in cases where the sickness was accompanied by distress, and even the funeral allowance was not always demanded.

The societies generally not being established upon any scientific principle, those which met with this prosperity were the exception to the rule ; and accordingly the cry that friendly societies were failing in all quarters was as great in 1819 as in 1869. A writer of that time speaks of the instability of friendly societies as "universal" ; and the general conviction that this was so resulted in the passing of tile Act of 1819, 59 Geo. III. c. 128. It recites that "the habitual reliance of poor persons upon parochial relief, rather than upon their own industry, tends to the moral deterioration of the people and to the accumulation of heavy burthens upon parishes ; and it is desirable, with a view as well to the reduction of the assessment made for the relief of the poor as to the improvement of the habits of the people, that encouragement should be afforded to persons desirous of making provision for themselves or their families out of the fruits of their own industry. By the contributions of the savings of many persons to one common fund the most effectual provision may be made for the casualties affecting all the contributors ; and it is therefore desirable to afford further facilities and additional security to persons who may be willing to unite in appropriating small sums from time to time to a common fund for the purposes aforesaid, and it is desirable to protect such persons from the effects of fraud or miscalculation." This preamble went on to recite that the provisions of preceding Acts had been found insufficient for these purposes, and great abuses had prevailed in many societies established under their authority. By this statute a friendly society was defined as "an institution, whereby it is intended to provide, by contribution, on the principle of mutual insurance, for the maintenance or assistance of the contributors thereto, their wives or children, in sickness, infancy, advanced age, widowhood, or any other natural state or contingency, whereof the occurrence is susceptible of calculation by way of average." It will be seen that this Act dealt exclusively with the scientific aspect of the societies, and had nothing to say to the element of good fellowship. Rules and tables were to be submitted by the persons intending to form a society to the justices, who, before confirming them, were to satisfy themselves that the contingencies which the society was to provide against were within the meaning of the Act, and that the formation of the society would be useful and beneficial, regard being had to the existence of other societies in the same district. No tables or rules connected with calculation were to be confirmed by flie justices until they had been approved by two persons at least, known to be professional actuaries or persons skilled in calculation, as fit ind proper, according to the most correct calculation ot which the nature of the case would admit. The justices in quarter sessions were also by this Act authorized to publish general rules for the formation and government of friendly gocieties within their county. The practical effect of this statute in requiring that the societies formed under it should be established on sound principles does not appear to have been as great as might have been expected. The justices frequently accepted as "persons skilled in calculation" local schoolmasters and others who had no real knowledge of the technical difficulties of the subject, while the restrictions upon registry served only to increase the number of societies established without becoming registered. In 1829 the law relating to friendly societies was entirely reconstructed by the 10 Geo. IV. c. 56, and a barrister was appointed under that Act to examine the rules of societies, and ascertain that they were in conformity to law and to the provisions of the Act. The barrister so appointed was Mr John Tidd Pratt ; and no account of friendly societies would be complete that did not do justice to the remarkable public service rendered by this gentleman. For forty years, though he had by statute really very slight authority over the societies, his name exercised the widest influence, and the numerous reports and publications by which he endeavoured to impress upon the public mind sound principles of management of friendly societies, and to expose those which were managed upon unsound principles, made him a terror to evil doers. On the other hand, he lent with readiness the aid of his legal knowledge and great mental activity to assisting well-intentioned societies in coming within the provisions of the Acts, and thus gave many excellent schemes a legal organization.





By the Act of 1829, in lieu of the discretion as to whether the formation of the proposed society would be useful and beneficial, and the requirement of the actuarial certificate to the tables, it was enacted that the justices were to satisfy themselves that the tables proposed to be used might be adopted with safety to all parties concerned. This provision, of course, became a dead letter, and was repealed in 1834: by 4 and 5 Wm. IV. c. 40. Thenceforth, societies were free to establish themselves upon what conditions and with what rates they chose, provided only they satisfied the barrister that the rules were "calculated to carry into effect the intention of the parties framing them," and were "in conformity to law." In 1846, by 9 and 10 Vic. c. 27, the barrister certifying the rules was constituted "Registrar of Friendly Societies," and the rules of all societies were brought together under his custody. An actuarial certificate was to be obtained before any society could be registered "for the purpose of securing any benefit dependent on the laws of sickness and mortality." In 1850 the Acts were again repealed and consolidated with amendments (13 and 14 Vic. c. 115). Societies were divided into two classes, "certified" and "registered." The certified societies were such as obtained a certificate to their tables by an actuary possessing a given qualification, who was required to set forth the data of sickness and mortality upon which he proceeded, and the rate of interest assumed in the calculations. All other societies were to be simply registered. Very few societies were constituted of the "certified" class. The distinction of classes was repealed and the Acts were again consolidated in 1855 by 18 and 19 Vic. c. 63. Under this Act, which admitted of all possible latitude to the framers of rules of societies, 21,875 societies were registered, a large number of them being lodges or courts of affiliated orders, and the Act continued in force till the end of 1875.

The law which now regulates friendly societies in Great Britain was passed in 1875 (38 and 39 Vic. c. 60) and amended in 1876 (39 and 40 Vic. c. 32). It still bears the permissive and elastic character which marked the more successful of the previous Acts, but it provides ampler means to members of ascertaining, and remedying defects ot management and of restraining fraud. The business of registry is under the control of a chief registrar, who has an assistant registrar in each of the three countries, with an actuary. It is his duty, among other things to require from every society a return in proper form each year of its receipts and expenditure, funds, and effects ; a return once every five years of the sickness and mortality it has experienced; and also once every five years a valuation of its assets and liabilities. Upon the application of a certain proportion of the members, varying according to the magnitude of the society, the chief registrar may appoint an inspector to examine into its affairs, or may call a general meeting of the members to consider and determine any matter affecting its interests. These are powers wmetinave been used with excellent effect. Cases have occurred in which fraud has been detected and punished by this means that could not probably have been otherwise brought to light. In others a system of mismanagement has been exposed and effectually checked. The power of calling special meetings has enabled societies to remedy defects in their rules, to remove officers guilty of misconduct, &c., where the procedure prescribed by the rules was for some reason or other inapplicable. Upon an application of a like proportion of members the chief registrar may, if he finds that the funds of a society are insufficient to meet the existing claims thereon, or that the rates of contribution are insufficient to cover the benefits assured (upon which he consults his actuary), order the society to be dissolved, and direct how its funds are to be applied.

This legislation was the result of the labours of a Royal Commission of high authority, presided over by Sir Stafford Northcote, which sat from 1870 to 1874, and prosecuted an exhaustive inquiry into the organization and condition of the various classes of friendly societies. Their reports occupy more than a dozen large bluebooks. They divide registered friendly societies into 13 classes.

The first class includes the affiliated societies or "orders," such as the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of Foresters, so the Rechabites, Druids, &c. These societies have a central body, either situated in some large town, as in the case of the Manchester Unity, or moving from place to place, as in that of the Foresters. Under this central body, the country is (in most cases) parcelled out into districts, and these districts again consist each of a number of independent branches, called "lodges," "courts," "tents," or "divisions," having a separate fund administered by themselves, but contributing also to a fund under the control of the central body. The Manchester Unity has (1878) 456 districts, 4121 lodges, 526,802 members, and £4,325,000 funds ; the Order of Foresters 287 districts, 4414 courts, 521,416 members, £2,497,000 funds. It may give an idea of the great utility of these societies to mention that the various courts of Foresters paid their members 3,197,366 days’ sick pay in a single year, and paid burial meney on 4666 deaths. Besides these two great orders, there are about forty smaller affiliated bodies, each having more than 1000 member; and the affiliated form of society appears to have great attraction. Indeed, in the colony of Victoria, Australia, all the existing friendly societies are of this class. The orders have their "secrets," but these, it may safely be said, are of a very innocent character, and merely serve the purpose of identifying a member of a distant branch by his knowledge of the "grip," and of the current password, &c. Indeed they are now so far from being "secret societies" that their meetings are attended by reporters and the debates published in the newspapers, and the Order of Foresters has recently passed a wise resolution expunging from its publications all affectation of mystery.

The second class is made up of "general societies," principally existing in London, of which the Commissioners enumerated 8 with nearly 60,000 members, and funds amounting to a quarter of a million; these societies are managed at a cost, on the average, of about 10 per cent. of their income.

The third class includes the "county societies," of which there were 11, 10 of which had £221,955 funds and 29,036 members, and 30 others approaching that type. These societies have been but feebly supported by those for whose benefit they are instituted, having all exacted high rates of contribution, in order to secure financial soundness.

Class 4, "local town societies," is a very numerous one. Among some of the larger societies may be mentioned the "Chelmsford Provident," with £26,403 funds, and 2352 members ; the "Brighton and Sussex Mutual," with £35,752 funds, and 824 members; the "Cannon Street, Birmingham," with £66,780 funds, and 8347 members; the "Birmingham General Provident," £37,997 funds, and 3379 members. In this group might also be included the interesting societies which are established among the Jewish Fom munity. They differ from ordinary friendly societies partly in the nature of the benefits granted upon death, which are intended to compensate for loss of employment during the time of ceremonial seclusion enjoined by the Jewish law, which is called "sitting shiva." They also provide a cab for the mourners and rabbi, and a tombstone for the departed, and the same benefits as an ordinary friendly society during sickness. Some also provide a place of worship. Of these the "Pursuers of Peace" (enrolled in December 17 97), the "Bikhur Cholim, or Visitors of the Sick" (April 1798), the "Hozier Holim" (1804), and nearly 50 others, of which 4 are courts of the Order of Foresters are on the register for Middlesex. Mr Adler calculates that some 30 or 40 such societies are in existence in London. Two or three societies have been certified (under the earlier Acts) for accumulating by weekly subscriptions a fund for the purchase of flour and the baking of passover cakes.

Class 5 is "local village and country societies," including the small public house clubs which abound in the villages and rural districts, a large proportion of which are unregistered.

Class 6 is formed of "particular trade societies."

Class 7 is "dividing societies." These were before 1875 unauthorized by law, though they were very attractive to the members. Their practice is usually to start afresh every January, paying a subscription somewhat in excess of that usually charged by an ordinary friendly society, out of which a sick allowance is granted to any member who may fall sick during the year, and at Christmas the balance not so applied is divided among the members equally, with the exception of a small sum left to begin the new year with. The mischief of the system is that, as there is no accumulation of funds, the society cannot provide for prolonged sickness or old age, and must either break up altogether or exclude its sick and aged members at the very time when they most need its help, This, however, has not impaired the popularity of the societies, and the Act of 1875, framed on the sound principle that the protection of the law should not be withheld from any form of association, enables a society to be registered with a rule for dividing its funds, provided only that all existing claims upon the society are to be met before a division takes place.

Class 8, "deposit friendly Societies," combine the characteristics of a savings bank with those of a friendly society. They were devised by the late Hon. and Rev. S. Best, on the principle that a certain proportion of the sick allowance is to be raised out of a member’s separate deposit account, which, if not so used, is retained for his benefit. Their advantages are in the encouragement they offer to saving, and in meeting the selfish objection sometimes raised to friendly societies, that the man who is not sick gets nothing for his money; their disadvantage is in their failing to meet cases of sickness so prolonged as to exhaust the whole of the member’s own deposit.

Class 9, "collecting societies," are so called because their contributions are received through a machinery of house-to-bouse collection. These were the subject of much laborious investigation and close attention on the part of the Commissioners. They deal with a lower class of the community, both with respect to means and to intelligence, than that from which the members of ordinary friendly societies are drawn. The large emoluments gained by the officers and collectors, the high percentage of expenditure (often exceeding half the contributions), and the excessive frequency of lapsing of insurances point to mischiefs in their management. "The radical evil of the whole system (the Commissioners remark) appears to us to lie in the employment of collectors, otherwise than under the direct supervision and control of the members, a supervision and control which we fear to be absolutely unattainable in burial societies that are not purely local." On the other hand, it must be conceded that these societies extend the benefits of life insurance to a class which the other societies cannot reach, namely, the class that will not take the trouble to attend at an office, but must be induced to effect an insurance by a house-to-house canvasser, and be regularly visited by the collector to ensure their paying the contri-butions. To many such persons these societies, despite all their errors of constitution and management, have been of great benefit. The great source of these errors lies in a tendency on the part of the managers of the societies to forget that they are simply trustees, and to look upon the concern as their own personal property to be managed for their own benefit. These societies are of two kinds, local and. general. The Commissioners enumerated 239 local societies, with over 680,000 members, and £203,777 funds ; and 20 of the more important general societies, with members estimated at 1,426,023, and funds at £461,605. For the general societies the Act of 1875 makes certain stringent provisions. Each member is to be furnished with a copy of the rules for one penny, and a signed policy for the same charge. Forfeiture of benefit for non-payment is not to be enforced without fourteen days’ written notice. The transfer of a member from one society to another is not to be made without his written consent and notice to the society affected. No collector is to be a manager, or vote or take part at any meeting. At least one general meeting shall be held every year, of which notice is to be given either by advertisement or by letter or post card to each member. The balance sheet is to be open for inspection seven days before the meeting, and is to be certified by a public accountant, not an officer of the society. Disputes may be settled by justices, or county courts, notwithstanding anything in the rules of the society to the contrary. These provisions have certainly been found already very beneficial ; but much more would be done for the benefit of the classes interested if the regulation which prevents the post office assuring less than £20 were abrogated, and if a general system of collection through the post office were established.





Closely associated with the question of the management of these societies is that of the risk incurred by infant life, through the facilities offered by these societies for making insurances on the death of children. That this is a real risk is certain from the records of the assizes, and from many circumstances of suspicion; but the extent of it cannot be measured, and has probably been exaggerated. It has never been lawful to assure more than £6 on the death of a ch ild under five years of age, or more than £10 on the death of one under ten. Previous to the Act of 1875, however, there was no machinery for ascertaining that the law was complied with, or for enforcing it. This is supplied by that Act, though still sctmewhat imperfectly. When the bill went up to the House of Lords, an amendment was made, reducing the limit of assurance on a child under three years of age to £3, but this amendment was unfortunately disagreed with by the House of Commons.

Class 10, annuity societies, prevail in the west of England. Six of these societies had, at the date of the last published returns, 719 members, and £79,136 funds. These societies are few, and their business is diminishing. Most of them originated at the time when Government subsidized friendly societies by allowing them £4, 11s. 3d. per cent. per annum interest. Now annuities may be purchased direct from the National Debt Commissioners. These societies are more numerous, however, in Ireland.

Class 11, female societies, are numerous. Many of them resemble affiliated orders at least in name, calling themselves Female Foresters, Odd Sisters, Loyal Orangewomen, Comforting Sisters, and so forth. In their rules may be found such a provision as that a member shall be fined who does not "behave as becometh an Orangewoman." Many are unregistered. In the northern counties of England they are sometimes termed "life boxes," doubtless from the old custom of placing, the contributions in a box. The trustees, treasurer, and committee are usually females, but very frequently the secretary is a man, paid a small salary.

Under Class 12 the Commissioners included the societies for various purposes which were authorized by the secretary of state to be registered under the Friendly Societies Act of 1855, comprising working men's clubs, and certain specially authorized societies, as well as others that are now defined to be friendly societies. Among these purposes are assisting members in search of employment ; assisting members during slack seasons of trade granting temporary relief to members in distressed circumstances purchase of coals and other, necessaries to be supplied to members relief or maintenance in case of lameness, blindness, insanity, paralysis, or bodily hurt through accidents; also, the assurance against loss by disease or death of cattle employed in trade or agriculture ; relief in case of shipwreck or loss or damage to boats or nets ; and societies for social intercourse, mutual helpfulness, mental and moral improvetrient, rational recreation, &c.. called working men’s clubs.

Class 13 is cattle insurance societies.

These are the thirteen classes into which the Commissioners divided registered friendly societies. There were 26,034 societies enrolled or certified under the various Acts for friendly societies in force between 1793 and 1855 ; and, as we have seen, 21,875 societies registered under the Act of 1855 before the 1st January 1876, when the Act of 1875 came into operation. The total therefore of societies to which a legal constitution had been given was 47,909. Of these 26,087 were presumed to be in existence when the registrar called for his annual return, but only 11, 282 furnisbed the return required. These had 3,404,187 members, and £9,336,946 funds. Twenty-two societies returned over 10,000 members each; nine over 30,000. One society (the Royal Liver Friendly Society, Liverpool, the largest of the collecting societies) returned 682,371 members. The next in order was one of the same class, the United Assurance Society, Liverpool, with 159,957 members; but in all societies of this class, the membership consists very largely of infants. The average of members in the 11,260 societies with less than 10, 000 members each is only 171, showing how small in reality the bulk of Friendly Societies are. There are 58 societies with mord than £10,000 funds ; 18 with more than 930,000. In these again the Royal Liver heads the list with its £453,418 ; the next in succession being the Hearts of Oak, a society belonging to the Commissioners’ second class, which has £179,996.

Such are the registered societies; but there remains behind a large body of unregistered societies, estimated by the Commissioners to be in England nearly coextensive with, in Scotland far to surpass in magnitude, the registered bodies. It is to be hoped that, as knowledge is spread of the advantages of registration,1 and as the true principles upon which friendly societies should be established become better understood, the number of unregistered societies, in comparison with those registered, will become much less. It must be admitted, however, that at present progress is not being made in that direction. The classes among whom friendly societies are formed are greatly averse to any undertaking involving mental labour, and the idea of periodical returns and of the other requirements of the statute is more alarming to them than it need be. It will be the province of those charged with the administration of the statute to endeavour, as far as possible, to combat this tendency, and by wise use of the materials in their hands to seek to show the societies that the registry office is a ready and useful auxiliary to them, and that the trouble it gives them is more than met by compensating advantages.

The description we have given of the various classes of friendly societies, the number of their members, and the amount of their funds leads to the most hopeful conclusions as to their future. Though great loss has been occasioned by the failure of societies and by errors in their constitution and management, the provident habits of the people have survived all discouragement, and a fund has been accumulated which may be loosely estimated at nearly 15 millions sterling, contributed out of the savings of the flower of the working class. On every side there is displayed a desire by the societies to increase the soundness of their position, and to reform anything that may be wrong in their constitution.

The colonies, also, are following the same course. In that of Victoria, Australia, the report of the Government statist, Mr H. H. Hayter, shows that on the 31st December 1876 there were 761 branches, belonging to 34 societies, having 45,957 members, and assuring also sums at the death of 27,919 wives of members. The amount of contribution made by each member is, under ordinary circumstances, 1s. weekly. The benefits consist of sick pay, medical attendance, and funeral allowances. The sickness experienced during the year was 52,817 weeks, or nearly 7 working days per member, the number of members sick having been 8,673. The usual sick pay is £1 per week for the first six months, reduced to 10s. or sometimes l3s. 4d. for the next six months, and to 5s. or sometimes 10s. for the remainder of sickness. The deaths were 452, or very nearly 10 in 1000. The amount paid on death of a member is usually £20, and of a member’s wife £10. It will be seen that the benefits are greater in amount than is usual in societies in the mother country. The total income of the societies was £163,593, and their funds amounted to £351,284. The number of societies, members, and amount of income have about doubled during 10 years, the amount of funds having accumulated even more rapidly, It may be added that the report in question gives a more complete body of statistics relating to friendly societies than has ever been attempted to be collected elsewhere.

In foreign countries the development of friendly societies has been slow. Belgium has a commission royale permanente des sociétés de secours mutuel, originally presided over by M. Visschers, and since by M. T’Kint de Roodenbeke. In France, under the second empire, a scheme was prepared for assisting friendly societies by granting them collective assurances under Government security. The societies have the privilege of investing their funds in the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, corresponding to the English National Debt Commission. In Germany a law was

passed on the 7th April 1876 on registered friendly societies. It prescribes for societies many things which in England are left to the discretion of their founders; and it provides for an amount of official interference in their management that is wholly unknown here. The superintending authority has a right to inspect the books of every society, whether registered or not, and to give formal notice to a society to call in arrears, exclude defaulters, pay benefits, or revoke illegal resolutions. A higher authority may, in certain cases, older societies to be dissolved. These provisions relate to voluntary societies; but it is competent for communal authorities also to order the formation of a friendly society, and to make a regulation compelling all workmen not already members of a society to join it.

On the actuarial view of the management of friendly societies the following remarks have been supplied by Mr William Sutton, actuary of the Friendly Societies’ Registry. It is in the highest degree essential to the interests of their members that friendly societies should be financially sound,—in other words, that they should throughout their existence be able to meet the engagements into which they have entered with their members. For this purpose it is necessary that the members’ contributions should be so fixed as to prove adequate, with proper management, to provide the benefits promised to the members. These benefits almost entirely depend upon the contingencies of health and life; that is, they take the form of payments to members when sick, of payments to members upon attaining given ages, or of payments upon members’ deaths, and frequently a member is assured for all these benefits, viz., a weekly payment if at any time sick before attaining a certain age, a weekly payment for the remainder of life after attaining that age, and a sum to be paid upon his death. Of course the object of the allowance in sickness is to provide a substitute for the weekly wage lost in consequence of being unable to work, and the object of the weekly payment after attaining a certain age, when the member will probably be too infirm to be able to earn a living by the exercise of his calling or occupation, is to provide him with the necessaries of life, and so enable him to be independent of poor relief. There is every reason to believe that, when a large group of persons of the same age and calling are observed, there will be found to prevail among them, taken one with another, an average number of days’ sickness, as well as an average rate of mortality, in passing through each year of life, which can be very nearly predicted from the results furnished by statistics based upon observations previously made upon similarly circumstanced groups. Assuming, therefore, the necessary statistics to be attainable, the computation of suitable rates of contribution to be paid by the members of a society In return for certain allowances during sickness, or upon attaining a certain age, or upon death, can be readily made by an actuarial expert. To furnish these statistics the Friendly Societies Acts have since 1829 required registered societies to make, every five years, a return in prescribed form of their sickness and mortality experience for the previous five years; and other materials of the same nature have from time to time been collected and published.

An important provision in the Friendly Societies Act, 1875, is that which requires every registered society to make a return of its receipts and expenditure, funds and effects, in a prescribed form, to the registrar of friendly societies every year. Particulars of the returns received will be found in the chief registrar’s reports.

A still more important provision in the same Act is one which requires societies to have a valuation rnade once at least every five years of their assets and liabilities, including the estimated risks and contributions, and to furnish particulars thereof to the registrar in a prescribed form. The object of such valuation is to ascertain as far as can be estimated the financial position of a society,—in other words, whether the future contributions receivable, plus the money or funds in hand, will, according to the best estimate that can be formed, prove sufficient to enable the society to meet its engagements hereafter; and the valuation balance sheet, therefore, takes the following form:

It is confidently expected that this provision will, after it has been in operation some time, prove of enormous value, as it will in many cases have the effect of warning the members of societies, before it is too late, that certain steps are necessary to place the society in a sound financial condition, and in other cases to indicate unmistakably to the members that the society to which they belong cannot be trusted to meet its engagements in the future. (E. W. B.)




Footnote

FOOTNOTE (page 783)

1 These may be briefly surnmed up thus:—(1) power to hold land and vesting of property in trustees by mere appointment; (2) remedy against misapplication of funds; (3) priority in bankruptcy or on death of officer; (4) transfer of stock by direction of chief registrar; (5) exemption from stamp duties; (6) membership of minors; (7) certificates of birth and death at reduced cost; (8) investment with National Debt Commissioners; (9) reduction of fines on admission to copyholds; (10) discharge of mortgages by mere receipt; (11) obligation on officers to render accounts; (12) settlements of disputes; (13) insurance of funeral expenses for wives and children without insurable interest; (14) nomination of death; (15) payment without administration; (16) services of public auditors and valuers; (17) registry of documents, of which copies may be put in evidence.



The above article was written by Edward William Brabrook, C.B., F.S.A., F.S.A.; V.P., Royal Archaeological Institute from 1900; Cheif Registrar of Building Societies ffrom 1891; President of the Anthropological Institute, 1895-97; President of the Folk-Lore Society, 1901; author of Provident Societies and Industrial Welfare and History of Royal Society of Literature.


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