[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Society, 11th July, 1898.]
Although not openly manifested, there are few subjects of more interest to the public generally at the present time than the one which aims to provide pensions to the aged. Not merely in New Zealand, but in most countries possessing representative institutions the same idea has taken possession of many of those who pay attention to social growth, and view government as an evolution having in view the coming of the time when the richest shall be poor, and the poorest shall be able to live in abundance, as were those who dwelt in the Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas, as sung by Longfellow. But social reformers find that an apparent advance in the direction of freedom appears to have its corresponding disadvantages in the life-battle of humanity, which means, after all, “the struggle for existence.” Man makes himself master of the forces of nature, and just as those forces -widen the possibilities of human happiness, so, too, they widen the dangers of man's discomfiture in the great struggle that is in progress. By the utilisation of the forces of nature immense wealth has been accumulated. That wealth, do what we may, is daily and hourly being controlled
by fewer hands. Countries, equally with the several producers of wealth in them, are being done to death by those who have succeeded in appraising their own worth by a gold standard, no matter how the gold was obtained.
The hive of human working-bees was never so industrious in this world of ours as it is to-day, and at no other period was a single individual so capable of producing so much by the application of the arts and sciences to the industrial needs of mankind. And yet, with so much that makes for a promised time of comfort and contentment, it cannot be said that poverty is decreasing, and that those who toil will never be in want. Indeed, the various forms of benevolence that are to be met with the world over show that poverty is rampant, though wealth is equally rampant, no matter whether we take our standpoint to view the scene in the old or in the newer centres of civilisation and refinement. Poverty is rampant! And 4o show the truth of this in the richest country of the world it is only necessary to point out that in the year 1888 there were 825,507 paupers in England, while the sum of £8,626,164 was paid, for their maintenance, or at the rate of £10 9s. per head per annum. In addition to this vast army of poor and needy, there were 157,103 paupers of the better class, but who are classed as pensioners, and ate maintained directly out of State funds, and. not from the rates. The cost of each pensioner was at the rate of £49 par annum, or nearly five times as great as that paid for each of the paupers, the total grant for pensions being £7,731,405.
It is not necessary to point out the conditions existing in the Australian Colonies, or in America, or Europe. The contrasts ire equally as marked in those continents as in the case cited. Our own country, young as it is, has not escaped the blighting prospects of poverty in homes by a comfortless old age. As yet these aspects of our social life have not become so evident as in the Old World, but they are sufficiently marked to show that as years go by the contrast between poverty and riches is becoming more and more pronounced. Charitable Aid Boards, homes, refuges, industrial schools, and others are already in existence, and in 1895 the Government paid a subsidy on account of charitable aid amounting to £51,212, to which the sum of £38,907 must be added as the amount derived from rates. The number of inmates in the sixteen benevolent asylums of the colony at the end of 1895 was 1,169 males and 775 females, of whom 866 males and 261 females were over fifty years of age; whilst out-relief was given to 3,776 persons.
It would be useless to give the almost fabulous amount of wealth owned by England at the present time, and it is hardly necessary to show that the wealth of New Zealand is increasing
at a rapid rate. We have, however, the fact that poverty and wealth are existing side-by-side, and we have the further fact that if men have nothing they must either be helped or starve. Those who have must render aid to those who have nothing: The law recognises this among all civilised communities; and the fact that so much is paid away annually to meet the demands of poverty is sufficient to show that the laws under which we live must be seriously defective in some respect or other, as in England one in every thirty-five of those living in the country is forced to seek parish aid, and become dependent on his fellows for support, even though many of them are able-bodied, and capable of working under an intelligent and organized plan of government.
The world of commerce has grown out of the discovery of new lands, and just as commerce extended and gave rise to ambitious projects with a view to the acquisition of wealth, so a similar commercial enterprise has brought into existence banks, companies, insurance agencies, and the hundred and one schemes of traffic in human lives and property such as present themselves to the view of every man, woman, and child in the community?
The system of insurance, now so common everywhere, is of modern growth. Antonio's ships, in the days of the Venetian Republic, were not insured; but it would be difficult to discover a ship-owner in these days who failed to make provision in anticipation of the loss of his possessions through storm and peril. The same thing has taken root with respect to the safeguarding of household property and furniture and goods and chattels and. crops—in fact, in these times it would be difficult to find an article of value that a speculative agent would not insure if he thought that a profit was probable by such a course. And now the insurance of human lives has become of special importance in every community. A human life is recognised as possessing value equally with property, and the various schemes devised for annuities, endowments, and payments to friends in case of the death of the insured, supply means to those in receipt of regular incomes of making provision either for old age or in favour of those depending on us. There is nothing difficult about the plan proposed, and, although insurance is merely a profit-making scheme on the part of companies other than those that are mutual and cooperative in their interests and profits, they nevertheless provide ways by which people in fairly comfortable circumstances can anticipate old age, sickness, and loss of employment.
But even these do not meet the needs of all classes of people. There are many thousands of people so circumstanced that insurance in its present form can never benefit
them in the least degree. The records of the different benevolent societies show this, for there are many families in every town where employment is so irregular and the weekly earnings so small that the household expenses cannot be met even by the exercise of the strictest economy. To go into debt is the natural course of such families, and even when times are brisk the debts that have to be repaid keep them one and all on the verge of absolute poverty. Provision for sickness, for old age, and for families in case of the premature death of the breadwinners cannot be made under such conditions. Hence it will be found that what is kept back under our present conditions from a large proportion of the poor has to be paid again in the course of time in the form of doles, whilst self-reliance, manliness, and self-respect are crushed by the process.
To engender habits of thrift and foresight among the poorer classes benefit societies were established, and perhaps no form of governmental control ever had so many possibilities of good as these self-reliant institutions. Friendly and benefit societies appear to have been an outgrowth of the old craft guilds which flourished in England for several hundred years, where mutual help, mutual responsibility, and mutual protection were their leading characteristics. Those who belonged to the craft guilds were allowed special privileges by the order. They were able to obtain loans without interest in case of need, and help was always rendered to the widows of members who had died. Thus we find Mr. John Hughes, Provincial Grand Master of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, in his evidence before the committee of the English Souse of Commons to inquire into the question of old-age pensions, expressing himself with respect to friendly societies in about the same way as a member of the ancient guilds would have expressed himself during the period of mediæval England. “They look,” says Mr. Hughes, “upon a member of a friendly society as having done something to ameliorate the lot of his fellow-men, and make sacrifices. They do not expect to get their money back; they have no claim to get it back; they may pay for twenty or thirty years, and unless they fall sick they do not get anything.”
Here we have the kernel, as it were, of Oddfellowship, and of all friendly societies now established. The abolition of the guilds and the confiscation of their funds by Henry VIII. and Edward VI. destroyed the exclusiveness of the various trades; but workmen thence became companions in a common aim and effort, and self-reliance manifested itself by the formation of friendly societies that recognised mutual help and mutual responsibilities under specified conditions. And any one who has watched and studied the growth of friendly societies throughout the world must have felt that they have been
a means of doing much good in the way of creating a self-reliant spirit among men, and in minimising the evils that mast always be an attendant upon a system of individualism, as distinct and separate from socialism, which aims to minimise poverty and to raise man among his fellows, so that life may be at least worth living.
The friendly societies in New Zealand constitute an important factor in the promotion of thrift, if what has been quoted above is true. And no doubt there is a certain amount of truth in what Mr. Hughes stated. For example, a man joining the Order of Oddfellows, say, in Napier, at the age of twenty, as a participant in sick and funeral benefits, may be so fortunate as to have no sickness throughout life. If we suppose such a man to die at the age of sixty years, the only benefit derived by the payment of forty years' subscriptions would be the receipt by his wife or friends of a sum of £30. During, the forty years the subscriptions would have amounted to £120, exclusive of special calls, which, compounded, would provide a large sum compared to the amount paid on the man's account. No doubt this is an extreme case, yet it illustrates the point that a member of a friendly society may do something to ameliorate the lot of his fellow-man by making a sacrifice. But sickness will make its appearance under all conditions of life, and unless provision can be made beforehand, as is done by members of friendly societies, those who are sick must either be neglected or they must inevitably fall into the helpless condition which is now the lot of many even in this country.
And yet, with so many possibilities in favour of friendly societies, it cannot, I think, be urged that the system is one chat should be more generally extended. The admirable summary forming a portion, of the statistics of the colony, as compiled by the Registrar-General, gives 30,905 as the total membership of all the orders of friendly societies in New Zealand, the three principal orders being the. Independent Order of Oddfellows, the Ancient Order of Foresters, and the Ancient Order of Druids. I am not in possession of the detailed reports issued by the sixteen or more districts into which the colony is divided by the Oddfellows, but the valuation report of the Hawke's Bay District by Mr. Mason, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, contains some valuable and suggestive information, which, it may be assumed, will apply generally to the whole of the order. On page 5 the Registrar says, “The rate of secession is high. Of 735 members admitted before the quinquennium preceding the valuation twelve died. Of the remaining 723 members the numbers sick and not sick were 278 and 445 respectively. Of the 278 who were sick twenty-eight lapsed, being 10 per cent; and of the 445 who
were not sick 191 lapsed, being 43 per cent. Of 599 admitted during the quinquennium preceding the valuation six died. Of the remaining 593 members the numbers sick and not sick were 120 and 473 respectively. Of the 120 who were sick thirteen lapsed, being 11 per cent; and of the 473 who were not sick 126 lapsed, being 27 per cent.” In other words, out of 1,334 members who belonged to the Order of Oddfellows in Hawke's Bay District at some time within a period of five years 358, or 27.2 per cent., left the order for reasons other than sickness. And yet - the benefits offered are £1 per week for six months, 10s, per week the second six months, 5s. per week after a continuous sickness of twelve months; funeral, £20 on the death of a member, and £10 on the death of a member's wife.
But this fluctuating condition of membership appears to be far from Uncommon. The annual report for the Hawke's Bay District I.O.O.F., M.U., for 1897 states that fifty new members were admitted, during the year, whilst a. Hundred members ceased to belong to the order, of whom sixty-four had been in membership under five years, twenty-five had been over five and less than ten years, and eleven had been in the order over ten years and under twenty-three years. And why were so many members excluded from participating in the benefits offered by the order after payment of dues extending over such a long period of years? It is here that the trouble lies in friendly-society control, and it is in this direction also that the friendly societies scarcely fulfil the proud vaunt of Mr. Hughes to the committee of the English House of Commons in the words quoted above. Men who have been so many years members of a society that offers benefits such as are here stated could only have left because they were unable to pay their weekly or monthly dues, as the case may be, and such men are often too old or too poor to anticipate the future in other ways.
Life Assurance.—-The business of life assurance as now carried on has an appreciable effect upon the friendly societies, and, judging by the number of policies current at the end of 1896, this form of thrift is largely adopted by the better class of colonists. There is no information available, as far, as I am aware, to show how many of those belonging to friendly societies hold an insurance policy as well; but it may be assumed that, at least in the case of working-men, very few of such policies will be held. The 72,193 policies such, as were current in 1896, with the 30,905 members belonging to friendly societies, give a total of 103,098 individuals in the colony, or, say, one in eight of the entire population who are known to be directly interested in making provision either for probable sickness, for old age, or for the benefit of those depending
upon them. But, whilst the growth of insurance is proceeding at a rapid rate, it appears that one in every fifteen of the total policies held lapsed during the year. Thus, according to the tables published by the Registrar-General, the total amount represented by the 72,193 policies current in the nine insurance offices doing business in the colony was £19,097,455 14s. 6d. This was exclusive of 5,338 policies discontinued, which represented £1,340,572 5s. 3d. It is a pity that information is not available as to the causes of the discontinuance of policies; but no doubt most of them may be set down, as in the case of the lapses in the friendly societies, to the “want of funds” to pay the necessary premiums at the time when due. In the above totals no account is taken of the ten thousand members who hold shares in one or other of the sixty-eight building societies in the colony. The aggregate value of the shares held by members was close upon half a million, which represents one of the channels used by working-men to place their savings in anticipation of future needs.
The Post-Office Savings-banks present a different field for inquiry from those already dealt with. This form of saving is largely used by the younger members of the community; and that the system is a popular one may be gathered from the fact that no fewer than 147,758 accounts were current at the close of 1896, representing deposits amounting to £4,311,634 13s. 5d., or an average of £29 3s. 7d. per head for each depositor. Here again the same difficulty presents itself as in the case of assurance and friendly societies. It is impossible to say how many of those having accounts in the Post Office are connected with building and friendly societies or hold assurance policies; but the facts presented are sufficient to show that a large proportion of the population are not merely provident in their habits and modes of living, but they anticipate the future in a way that will compare favourably with the people of any other country.
From the facts that have been stated here it will be seen that great efforts are being put forth by the people to provide in some way for the future. The amount may be insufficient to give all that is needed in the way of comforts in time of sickness and maintenance during old age, but there is sufficient evidence to show that even without the intervention of the State the people in this country are not unmindful of one of the highest duties of citizenship. Self-reliance and self-help are qualities in human character that should be fostered at all times; but, do what one may, there are times in the lives of many who strive to anticipate the future when they are unable to carry out their engagements, owing to circumstances that are perhaps unavoidable,
and certainly unexpected. In the case of men who have joined friendly societies, or take out a policy of assurance, lapses may perhaps temporarily benefit to some extent the societies or associations to which they belonged, but it is at the subsequent expense of the public. In all matters relating to individuals there is a kind of compensating influence at work. You may take advantage of a man according to the circumstance under which he is placed in relation to yourself. Thus an advantage may be taken of a poor roan by reason of the fact that he is poor. He must live, and his condition may be such that he must work for the barest pittance, just as certain Easterns do who are slaves of their masters. Modern society, mechanical and artificial as it has become, is in reality based upon scientific lines. Government as we know it to be to-day is the outcome of the sufferings and sacrifices made by individuals and societies and associations in the cause of freedom and enlightenment. It is organization and collectivism that have saved the individual as against oppression and poverty, and great importance should be attached to the inquiry how far organization has tended to improve the conditions of the workers.
In all the papers I have perused on thrift and pensions nothing has been said as to the effect of trade organizations in conjunction with the specialisation of labour upon individuals and wages. For example, let us take the case of a hundred workmen engaged, say, at a sawmill in this town, and a hundred workmen engaged as labourers or occasional station - hands. The former have regular work, and they become subject to regulations which require them to anticipate the morrow. Their habits are moulded to the conditions under which they work. As associates, the men are able to discuss subjects that affect their interests, and it will be found that the large majority enter one or other of the friendly societies in the town. But what of the hundred labourers and occasional station-hands, whose home life is entirely absent? How are they circumstanced, and how many of them are there who join an association for mutual intercourse and benefit? The question is one that bears directly upon the inquiry as to whether anything should be done for men in the aggregate. There are usually in the Old Men's Home in this town forty-five men, their ages varying from fifty-five to seventy-five years. Of those now in occupation, thirty-eight are over sixty years of age and seven below sixty. All of them have been accustomed to irregular employment, and the large majority are the product of the sheep-stations. These are facts which can be easily verified at the present time, and they go to show the importance of organization in trades and professions. How many, for
example, are to be found in the old men's homes in New, Zealand who have been trained as engineers or blacksmiths or teachers or lawyers or ministers of religion? Such trades, and professions are in a large measure specialised, and where-ever specialisation comes in so also do better pay and improved social surroundings.
It may not be considered necessary to do anything in the way of helping a whole community ac a certain time of life in the face of such facts as have been given as to the position of friendly societies, insurance, building societies, and Post-Office Savings-banks. These aspects of thrift, be it remembered, are as much socialistic as individualistic. They are individualistic inasmuch as each individual acts on his own responsibility in taking care of his surplus income on earnings, but they are socialistic because the savings are transferred to the keeping of societies or companies or Governments, as the case maybe. By this means it is possible in a great measure to estimate the savings of the different classes of workers in the colony, and no doubt a large proportion of the working-classes endeavours to make provision for the future whenever opportunities are favourable. It must be evident, however, that many of those employed in the manufacturing industries of the colony are unable to do more than keep themselves in fair comfort, and put by for a time of need inconsiderable sums.
The average annual wage of 22,986 males employed in the manufacturing and machine works of the colony in 1896 was £77 5s., or at the rate of £1 9s. 8 ¼£d. weekly for each worker; 4,403 females received in wages during the year £131,516, or at the rate of 11s. 6d. weekly. The return from which these facts are taken does not give the number of youths included, and whose wages are necessarily much smaller than those paid to adults. The annual report of the Minister of Education, referring to salaries, says, “The average salary paid to the 5,426 teachers employed in the public schools was £93 8s. 5d.,” but the return included 1,061 pupil-teachers and 804 juniors, none of whose salaries would probably reach more than £60 per annum, whilst many of them would receive £20, or, at the most, £30, per annum. What is specially defective in these returns is the absence of information as to the purchasable comfort obtainable on the wages received, and the capacity of the workers to provide for old age. No information is available as to the wages paid to labourers and those subject to irregular employment, but the income is much smaller on the average than the above. In any case, it may be set down as a law that the nearer you get to unspecialised and non-professional forms of labour the nearer you get to poverty and to the condition of life that requires all the
powers of the workers to keep out of debt, without hope or possibility of saving either for sickness, for times of no work, or for old age.
This aspect of the question must be kept steadily in view. Our social conditions, by “which I include our methods of employing labour, are such that no sooner has an employer of labour taken the best he can out of an employé than the latter is sent away to seek employment elsewhere. Those are the best servants who can produce the greatest profits for their employers, and so soon as profits diminish the workers suffer, because capital must be sustained at all costs. What I specially wish to bring out to view here is this: that, you may do whatever you please in the way of government, you cannot take advantages from one class and give them to another unless at the same time you make the class from whom the advantages are drawn more dependent upon others. It is the same in everything. You cannot destroy force or matter, neither can you destroy equity or justice. You may disturb the equilibrium by creating advantages, but these advantages carry with them responsibilities and after-effects which finally bring about a balance of conditions.
We have seen the average wage paid to those forms of labour where employment may be said to be constant, but there exists a large class in the colony who have no regular employment, and who depend for employment upon sheep-shearing, fencing, and the other hundred kinds of needs that spring up in a new country. No average wage can be obtained for this class of workers. Such labour may be well paid, but it is irregular, and I think that two hundred days a year may be set down as the extreme limit of employment during a year in which such men are engaged.
You have only to visit the Old Men's Refuge in the town to discover the source from whence the greatest troubles spring. Nor can anything else be expected under the present social conditions. Inquire from the old men as to their pleasures, their enjoyments, and their wanderings, and it will be found that when not employed they had to travel from township to township and from station to station, and the only place for shelter was the bar-room of the hotel, or a friendly wind-beaten whare by the wayside. No wonder such men break down under trials of mind and body to which most of them are exposed; and, whatever may be said of their failings, one is surprised why so few of them give up in despair, considering the black and prospectless lives through which most of them pass. Can such a class of men be expected to provide for a rainy day in the same way as the professional classes and those of the artisan class whose labour is regular? If not, what ought to be done, not merely to train them in
habits of self-reliance, but to stay the increasing tendency to seek charitable aid at the hands of members of the twenty-one District Boards into which the colony is divided for the purposes of doling out relief?
I have pointed out already that when a dole is given by the State to individuals it is known as a pension, but when given by unions in England or by Charitable Aid Boards in New Zealand it is a relief or a charity; but to me the man who has passed through life “toiling, rejoicing, and sorrowing, like the village blacksmith, is as worthily entitled to a pension at the instance of the State as is the man who has been employed in the destruction of mankind at the instance of a Government, or in writing letters for a Minister of State, who draws the pay and then expects the people to pension his over worked clerk.
It is clear from what has been already stated that the social conditions of a country are such that, no matter what plan may be adopted, whether the individualistic or communistic, in government, there must be, and there always will be, differences in the comforts and possessions of the people. As well expect an equality in the production of the soil as expect the same results to obtain among human beings. But, whilst this is recognised, it should just as fully be recognised that an organized society implies a capacity to regulate for the common good. All government is assumed to recognise this, and jointly in its individual and collective capacity is supposed to provide for it. Whatever scheme of social evolution there may be as the years go by, there will be rich and poor just as certain as there will be summer and winter.
Now, the facts that have been presented show that so soon as people have the opportunity to save in anticipation of a rainy day they do so, and most of the agencies and profit-making schemes of these latter days are the outcome of this growing tendency among men to provide for bad times and sickness and old age. The friendly societies have done good work in their days, and the insurance agencies have likewise been a great power for good in paving the way to a generalised scheme of benefits to communities.
The principle laid down as regulating the trade guilds has, in a large measure, been followed by every society and association having in view the case of man's bodily needs, but, unfortunately, such institutions have been based on the management of an ordinary joint-stock company, where a. man's profits are in proportion to the amount of money he has at stake. Just as the friendly society was the outgrowth of the trade and craft guilds, so insurance is the outgrowth of the friendly society, the commercial system, and the factory system, and now the tendency to generalise yet more is
becoming apparent. From the individual to the family, the family to the guild, the guild to the society, the society to the community, the community to the State, such is the evolution of human interests in the history of every people when passing from individualism to communism, or from savagery to a highly organized form of government.
The late Sir Arthur Helps, in his book on “Social Pressure,” says of government, “I believe it to be true that never is paternal government so needful as when civilisation is most advanced. The more advanced the civilisation the less powerful is the individual, and the more he requires to have a careful father, who should look after him and befriend him. He has become a part of a machine, and there is great need that the regulator of the machine should be a living, acting, forcible creature, who should have a feeling for all the separate portions of the machine he regulates. We have in these few lines the gist of the whole matter. The individual is beset with so many opposing interests in a highly organized society that in reaching a certain social stage he sinks to a mere cipher, as a potent factor in the race of men. He cannot climb, and, if he would, finds every walk of life graded in such a way that advance is almost impossible. We have seen that there are people in the colony who under the present-social conditions cannot possibly save from their earnings. They are ready to work, and capable of working. What ought to be done with men of this class? And yet such people are happy compared with thousands and tens of thousands of workpeople in England and other lands where a highly differentiated stage of social life exists, and as time goes on this condition will manifest itself with us as the introduction of manufacturing industries goes on under free competitive conditions.
Already there is a tendency to the lowering of the average earnings of factory-hands. In 1891 the average earnings of 29,880 persons who were engaged in industrial work in factories and workshops amounted to £73 19s. per head per annum. At the end of 1895 the average earnings had fallen to £69 13s. 11 ½d; the male workers showing at the same time a diminution of 14.6 per cent., whilst the females increased 48.3 per cent. The same tendency to a lower average rate of pay, owing to competition, is manifested among teachers, and no doubt the professions generally have experienced a similar tendency. But with these facts before us, and seeing that such organizations as are now in operation for making provision against sickness, &c., are simply the outcome of a desire among individuals who were weak to protect themselves against some form of injustice, is it not possible for the State, as a big father, to come to the help of
the individual, and befriend him, without the cruel system of pauperisation, such as is adopted in the Old Country, and which is the direct product of the feudal system?
We in this country ought to be sufficiently capable of determining for to-day and to-morrow whether the poor-laws of England have or have not been a failure, and whether they should be allowed a foothold amongst us. In feudal times the destitute were helped by the monastic and religious organizations as a duty, and that duty was carried out until the spoliation of the monasteries by Henry VIII., who also confiscated the possessions of the trade guilds. From then till now there has been an increasing tendency to organization among the workers and the masses as a means of preserving themselves and their interests against an aristocracy of wealth possessing almost unlimited powers. In 1536, so bad had grown the state of affairs, that the Parliament enacted that voluntary alms should be collected in every parish for the purpose of relieving impotent poor. A similar Act was again adopted in 1555; and in 1563 another Act was passed, making it competent for the Justices and churchwardens in petty sessions to tax any obstinate person who refused to give willingly a weekly aid to the relief of the poor—such sum as in their discretion they deemed proper and just. This state of things continued till the celebrated poor-law of 1601, by which relief was provided for those who could not work—“the poor by impotence”; work for those able and willing—“the poor by casualitie”; and imprisonment for the idle—“the thriftless poor.” Under our system there ought never to be indigent poor such as are to be met with in England. Our institutions are not based upon feudal tenures, and our social and political institutions recognise the fullest equality between man and man.
“Life, liberty, and the- pursuit of happiness” are un-alienable rights, and the aim of a community living under democratic institutions should be as the aim of a parent who has a family to train and to regulate. Organization is the leading characteristic of good government, and whilst in the production of wealth the individual has full scope for the exercise of the powers, the State, as a wise and careful parent, should safeguard and regulate those interests which affect the lives and well-being of each individual. We have seen how under our present social arrangements a large proportion of those in friendly societies who aim to insure against times of sickness or old age lapse or fall owing to causes beyond their own ability to prevent, and the same thing takes place under the various assurance schemes in operation. Under a properly organized scheme such “lapses” would be impossible, and the question arises whether the time has not come to
inquire as to the feasibility or otherwise of adopting such a scheme as may benefit the people as a whole in such a way that sickness and old age may be met without anxiety. As a people we recognise the great advantages of one scheme of taxing, the one authority in government.
The State exists ostensibly for the same ends as did the trade guilds, and there should be no greater difficulty in formulating a mutual and general pension scheme for the benefit of every citizen than in formulating a general scheme of taxation which implies an equity of payment in return for an equity of protection. For my own part, I do not see the slightest difficulty in the way, for if you concede the possibility of arranging an equitable scheme of taxation, the like principle is involved in arranging for an equitable scheme to provide for participation in sick benefits and in pension benefits at a time of life when, through physical infirmity of any kind whatever, citizens are unable to maintain themselves by physical and mental labour.
Twenty-two years ago I was one of a deputation of teachers to my respected friend the Hon. Mr. Rolleston; M.H.R., who was then Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury. The object of the deputation was to establish a pension scheme for teachers. As secretary, and having made a study of the question, I proposed a scheme which provided that every teacher in the public schools should from the time of entry as a pupil-teacher be required to pay a certain percentage of his salary into a fund, to be known as the “Teachers' Benefit and Superannuation Fund.” Should a teacher die before the age when a retiring-allowance became necessary his widow—if he was a married man—was to receive certain benefits as long as she lived or remained single. Although favourably received by Mr. Rolleston, the time was not favourable, as provincialism itself was on the point of extinction, and nothing was done; but from that time till the present I have many times urged the adoption of a scheme such as would be of use to teachers in case of sickness or of compulsory retirement from duty. In my annual report to the Education Board in December, 1888, occurs the following: “Before closing my report, I desire to bring under the notice of the Board a subject which closely concerns the welfare of teachers and the success of education. The Board is aware that the large majority of teachers are in charge of schools, or occupy positions, from which the income obtained is none too large to sustain a family in comfort and provide a death contingency in the way of life assurance. Very few, I fear, among the teachers in the smaller schools are able to make any provision for coming old age. Within the past three years two sad
cases have come under my notice as occurring in this district. In one case the master had to resign, his appointment in consequence of loss of eyesight, and he is now a poor old man subsisting on the charity of friends. In the second case the master had a serious complaint, which really incapacitated him as a teacher, but his circumstances were such that he was forced to continue to remain in charge of a school until the ground almost closed over him. These men possessed satisfactory qualifications; they had spent their lives as teachers in the service of their country, and their moral characters were of the highest and best. Is it not possible for something to be done to help such a class of deserving men in time of need? Some years ago the question of a teachers' superannuation fund was mooted, and this, I imagine, would have been carried into, effect had not circumstances necessitated the expenditure of the accrued school fund for schools-buildings. To me there appears little difficulty in the way of establishing some such fund for teachers, if the central department would take the initiative. The retention of 1s. per head of the capitation-allowance now paid to Education Boards for school-maintenance would provide at once, and in the most equitable way I know, a fund sufficient to meet the cases of all teachers who, through ill-health or increasing years, find it necessary to retire from the profession.”
Since these lines were first written there has been a remarkable impetus given to the question of State pensions, and in Germany legislation has taken place, known as the “workers' insurance legislation,” which provides the working people of Germany with three kinds of compulsory insurance, the first being to make provision against sickness. This fund is controlled by the people themselves. The second fund provides for insurance against accident; this is controlled by the employers of labour. The third fund provides for the granting of old-age pensions, on account of disablement or old age. There the State steps in and controls.
In England several important schemes have lately been proposed, among which may be mentioned one by Mr. Charles Booth and one by the Right Hon. Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Booth proposes that every inhabitant of the British Isles, on reaching the age of sixty-five, is to receive as a right the sum of 5s. a week until his death, unless he or she has in the ten years before that age been in receipt of poor-house relief, or has been convicted of crime. Mr. Chamberlain's scheme differs widely from the above. He proposes to establish a State Pension Fund. The payments to it are to be voluntary. There are for men tables of payment in a returnable and non-returnable scale. Thus on a returnable table a man who before his twenty - fifth year pays £5 to the Post-Office
Savings-Bank is to be credited with a further sum of £15 from the State Pension Fund. Afterwards he has to pay £1 a, year, and at sixty-five lie can claim a pension of £13 a year. There are certain provisions for allowances to his widow in case of death, and should he die without leaving a widow or children his representatives receive the original £5. In the case of a woman payments have to be made on a non-returnable scale. £1 10s. deposited in the Post-Office Savings-Bank before twenty-five years of age entails a credit of £8 from the State Pension Fund, and thereafter on the payment of 8s. 8d. yearly for forty years a pension of £7 16s. is due at the age of sixty-five. Thus on this scheme a man is to become entitled to a weekly payment of 5s. at the age of sixty-five, and a woman to a payment of 3s. a week at a like age.
The Act to provide old-age pensions which was introduced by the Bight Hon. Mr. Seddon last year states that, “Whereas it is expedient that all persons who during the prime of life have helped to bear the public burdens of the colony by the payment of taxes, and to open up its resources by their labour and skill, should in old age be protected by the colony against risk of want: Be it therefore enacted that every person attaining the age of sixty-five or upwards shall be entitled to a, pension of 10s. a week for the rest of life if he is and has been for twenty years residing in the colony continuously for the preceding three years and not more than eighteen months absent in ten years preceding application.” It is proposed to find the necessary funds to meet such a liability from the following alternative services: Primage duties, increase of excise duties, land-taxes, death duties, and stamp duties, tax on mortgages, ticket-tax on entertainments, &c.
It will be noticed that the schemes mentioned vary very widely. The German scheme calls in the combined assistance of the workers, the employers of labour, and the Government; Mr. Booth's scheme makes the State liable for the maintenance of all persons over the age of sixty-five years; Mr. Chamberlain's scheme combines workers and the State; whilst Mr. Seddon's scheme runs on all-fours with Mr. Booth's, except that the proposed pension is doubled.
With the schemes proposed for England we have nothing to do. They are suggestive, as in the German scheme, but they would certainly not be satisfactory if adopted for this country. The standard of social comfort is much higher in the colonies than in the old countries of Europe, and when it is considered that the average cost for the maintenance of paupers in England is already 4s. weekly, Mr. Chamberlain's scheme offers nothing to the workers beyond paying for a period of forty years for what they obtain at present for nothing
The proposal for the aged of New Zealand is a liberal one, bat it lacks what appears to me as the essential element in all government—viz., self-reliance. The men are to receive a pension because they have lived in the colony for a period of twenty years. The various duties proposed to meet the cost of the scheme barely affect the majority of those who would most likely become participants; besides, the age is fixed at sixty-five. No provision is made for sickness or for cases where physical infirmity compels the retirement of persons from labour at an earlier period. The aim of any scheme that may be adopted should be to destroy all charity organizations such as now exist: they are a blot upon our modern civilisation, more particularly so when the civilisation is based upon democratic forms of Government such as the colonies possess. This may readily be done by requiring every individual, whether male or female, working for wages, to set aside from the day he begins to labour at remunerative employment a small amount daily. This amount should be deducted by the employer and paid into a Government sick and pension fund account at stated periods. Every worker should be provided with a check-ticket that should be entered monthly by the employer, and removal from one district to another should make no difference to the worker. The amount to be deducted should not exceed 1d. daily, or £1 6s. 1d. in a period of 313 working-days. This, of course, would be the maximum amount payable. “When not employed no payment would be made, as it is manifestly unfair to ask those who are earning, nothing to pay the same dues as those who are earning wages. This system might not produce an amount sufficient to provide all that would be wanted for sick and pension benefits, but, at any rate, it is a self-reliant scheme, and one which recognises to the full mutual support, mutual protection, and mutual responsibility.
And now let us see how such a scheme would be likely to work. The population of the colony over fifteen years and under sixty years of age, in April, 1896, was 409,829—viz., 218,769 men and 191,060 women; between the ages of sixty and sixty-five years there were 16,782 persons—viz., 10,504 men and 6,278 women; and over the age of sixty-five there were 20,756 persons—viz., 12,503 men and 8,253 women. In other words, 8.3 per cent, of the population over the age of fifteen years, or 1 in 12, were over sixty years of age; 4.6 per cent., or, say, 1 in 22, were over sixty-five years; and 3.7 per cent., or 1 in 27, were between sixty and sixty-five years of age. I do not suppose that at any time or period one-half of the men and women over the age of sixty are incapable of pursuing their accustomed calling. But for the sake of an illustration let it be assumed
that one-half of the 37,538 persons over sixty years of age—viz., 18,769—were to claim their pension of 10s. weekly, or £26 per annum, the sum required would be £487,994. According to a letter from the Commissioner of the Government Life Insurance Department relative to the annual payment necessary to secure a pension of £26 a year on and after the age of sixty-five, it appears that an annual payment of £1 11s. commencing at the age of eighteen would, suffice to secure an annuity of £26 a year payable at the age of sixty-five, interest being estimated on a 3-per-cent. scale. Now, if the payments of 1d. a day for every working-day was to begin as suggested by me—viz., so soon as young people begin any form of employment—i.e., at an average of fifteen years—it will be found that on a 4-per-cent. scale the payment of £1 6s. 1d. per annum would be sufficient to provide an annuity of £26 a year, payable; at sixty, or at such period afterwards as the recipients might desire. As for the time of retirement, the question should be an open, one, depending upon physical capacity, as there are many men to be found in the colony who are physically and mentally more capable at the age of seventy than are others at the age of fifty-five.
The interesting return by the Registrar of Friendly Societies which was made last year, pursuant to section 19 of “The Registration of People's Claims Act, 1896,” for old-age pensions, shows that 8,018 persons in the colony—viz., 5,602 men and 2,408 women—over the age of sixty-five years sent in a claim to be registered as entitled to participate under the proposed Act; 5,584 claims—equal to 26–9 per cent, of the total over sixty-five years of age—were admitted, the others being either rejected or deferred for further information and inquiry.
Now, the number of claims differs very little from what might have been expected under ordinary circumstances. The claims from the women were perhaps fewer than might be expected under ordinary conditions, but of the 20,756 persons over the age of sixty-five years in the colony certainly not more than one-half might be expected to lay claim to a pension at any period under the conditions laid down.
In England 12 per cent, of the population over sixty years of age are in receipt of parish relief, and no doubt a large percentage are on the verge of poverty, but prefer to remain dependent upon outside charity rather than have the stigma of pauper attached to their names and homes.
It has been pointed out already that of the 447,367 persons in the colony over the age of fifteen years 409,829 are between the ages of fifteen and sixty. One penny daily deducted from the earnings of each for 313 working-days would give an income of £534,485 4s. 9d. If, now, we assume
that one-half of those over the age of sixty years would be come claimants for a pension under the. necessary conditions of granture—a proportion much higher than may be expected—the total liabilities would be £487,994. Thus between possible income and expenditure there is a large margin sufficient to provide contingencies for special cases, and arrange for yet wider benefits in the way of a sick fund as the system becomes more firmly established.
The scheme here suggested has the merit of being mainly self-sustaining and self-supporting. Every participant of a pension will have provided during the course of years an endowment for himself or herself, and it will not be a Question of poverty bending as a suppliant at the footstool of charity, but it will be old age living in peaceful comfort and content as the outcome of prudential conditions and foresight exercised by a paternal Government.
In the course of years the claimants would naturally increase, and the cost of maintenance would also increase by the sum of £26 for every such addition; but on such a population basis as I have quoted above there would be a corresponding increase of twenty-six or twenty-seven additional persons added to-the number of those entitled to pay their 1d. a day into a pension fund, and thus the annual income available for expenditure would be increased even at a greater rate than the proportionate increase of claimants. Under the German system of pensions a condition is attached to the effect that pensions are not subject to pledging mortgaging, or seizure of any kind. This of necessity would be required under any scheme, as the aim of a generalised scheme is to do away with all those forms of charity which debase humanity, and are a blot upon our modern civilisation. A pension should suffice for fair comfortable maintenance.
No charity should intervene in the case of pensions, and should it be found that any pensioner abused the privilege of his pension he should be dealt with as is done so successfully in the case of children committed to industrial schools. The boarding-out system has proved highly valuable as a means of training children, and old pensioners who are thriftless might well be “boarded out,” the maintenance, allowance being paid directly to those who undertake their charge.
The system which I have been compelled so briefly to outline does not affect in the slightest all those forms of thrift such as are open to the public at present. Friendly societies may go on in their own way, assurances may continue to be effected on the lives of the people by the various companies now doing business, and all forms of thrift—such as building societies and savings-banks——may do their part in taking charge of the surplus moneys of the workers and the thrifty.
It differs from a scheme that has been proposed, inasmuch as it makes the people the direct agents and sustainers of their own schemes and their own pensions.
I am aware that much may be said in favour of the proposal to issue pensions to individuals in a country over a, certain age simply because they have been citizens of that country for a number of years; but just as in the time of the poor-law of Elizabeth there were “the poor by impotence,” “the poor by casualitie,” and the “thriftless poor,” so these three kinds of poor may still be found. The thriftless poor will be forcibly trained to anticipate the coming years under the system suggested, and it is only by some such scheme that habits of prudence and foresight can be enforced for the common benefit and good of all.
Two hundred years have passed by since the first workhouse was established in Bristol by John Cary. It can hardly be said that such houses have trained a large proportion of the people in anything but dependence upon others. Self-reliance, manliness, foresight, thrift, have all been wanting under such a well-meant though impotent plan; and it is the duty of every citizen in this country, freed as he is from the restraint of custom, to insist that such charity methods as have sprung directly from the abolition of feudal tenures, the grasping by kings and their favourites of monastery lands, and the confiscation of the properties of the craft guilds, shall not find a footing in New Zealand. Our country is free from, the incubus of army maintenance, which in England costs treble a pension scheme; and, perceiving the deficiencies and weaknesses that exist in the social schemes of older countries, it is our duty to exercise judgment in the selection of modes of living in such a way that our land and our people may be like the Acadian land and the Acadian people of whom the poet sings, where “the richest were poor, and the poorest lived in abundance.”