The Insurance Act from within

The dawn of a new year is an opportune time to take stock of the position of the working class as members of the National Insurance Fund. A scheme embracing many millions of our fel­low working men and women, absorbing much time and attention, looked to for aid in the most distressing periods of their lives by the sick and suffering, the unemployed and want-tormented victims ol modem society, it is essential that we should carefully grasp the methods of our masters in governing our class.

The insured persons may be divided broadly under two heads— employed persons compulsorily insured, and those to whom insurance under the Act is optional.

The “Statesmen” who ushered in the scheme reckoned upon 625,000 voluntary contributors rushing in to claim the ”rare and refreshing fruit”—”Ninepence for Fourpence.” (See Actuary’s Report, Cd 5983.)

Instead of this number, however, we are in­formed by the Government Report (Cd 6.907) that less than 16,000 had joined by October 13, 1912. These figures tell their own tale.

That so few volunteers could be obtained to apply for the alleged benefits of the scheme illustrates the sorry condition of the thirteen million sheep driven into the Insurance fold.

The employed contributors fall into two sec­tions, known as Depositor (or Post Office) Contri­butors, and the members of approved societies. The former comprise in the main the rejects of the societies—those who have been bruised and battered in the sordid stmggle for existence that they are considered “bad lives” even by the most hungry “society.”

They numbered 508,000 during the first quarter, and, true to custom, these most needy of the world’s workers received the worst treat­ment. They are not insured at all : they are simply fleeced. Medical attention, sanitorium treatment, and sickness benefit are required to the greatest extent by tbe Post Office Contribu­tors, but what do they get ? We reprint here a circular sent out to these members.

“Oct. 15, 1913.
“Sir or Madam,
“I am instructed by the Yorkshire Insurance Committee to inform you that, as the amount standing to your credit in the Post Office Fund is insufficient to meet the proper proportion of the yearly charge for Medical Benefit, Sanitorium benefit, and expenses of administration payable in respect of each Deposit Contributor under the National Insurance Act, you are sus­pended from medical and other benefits as a De­posit Contributor on and from Oct. 15 1913 till further notice. If, however, you have been, or are hereafter, accepted as as a member of an approved Society, you should request the Sec­retary of your Society to inform the Committee of your acceptance as a member, as you would then be entitled to Medical Benefit.”

The above regulation accounts for the fact that in 3,337 claims for sickness benefit made up to 31st May 1913, partial payment only was made as the account was exhausted by charges for administration. The average amount paid to the claimants (including those paid in full) was seven shillings and eight pence. The aver­age amount paid to women claiming maternity benefit was ten shillings and a penny, and to men fourteen shillings and fourpence. So much for the greatly belauded thirty bob !

The “lucky” ones, however, the “much fav­oured” twelve and a half million, are members of approved Societies. The original intention was that they should become members of the various Friendly Societies who had machinery already working for the purposes of “health” Insurance. I explained in our last issue the method by which the vast profit making com­panies became approved societies, much to the chagrin of the Friendly Societies and Trade Unions.

Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society at Bournemouth the President said:

“Our interests have to a great extent been sacrificed and betrayed in the interests of organisations controlled by capitalists and adminis­tered for the advantage, not of the insured persons, but of shareholders and company promoters.”

Similar confessions could be quoted from many other bodies. The main point for us, however, is, what difference does it make to the insured ? The chief difference is the lack of control insured persons have in the affairs of the societies. In the smaller bodies, the dividing societies aud friendly associations, the members have some chance of expressing their wishes and influencing the management of the bodies. But in those titanic institutions formed by the In­dustrial Assurance Companies for further plunder, the millions of members are without the slightest power to regulate affairs. In the bodies, formed ostensibly for the democratic adminis­tration of the Insurance Act, the control is in the hands of committees composed of directors of the parent societies, the Industrial Assurance speculators. The staff find themselves under the iron heel of financiers and others of the exploit­ing class, who run the business for the purpose of profit, just like any ordinary factory hell. The only other means the insured parsons have of influencing administration is that of sitting upon Insurance Committees, and as those are held during the day-time, they are deliberately closed to the workers.

The Prulential Approved Societies have nearly 3 million members, and the position of these members may be gathered from the speech of the delegate of the Prudential Insurance Agents Union at the last Trade Union Congress. Mr. D. Jones said :

“Not one of the 2,880,000 members of the six approved societies established by the Pru­dential Insurance Society had a voice in the control of those societies. He further asserted that whilst the balance sheet of the Industrial Section of the society for 1912 showed that they had received £139,320 from their six approved societies (representing, he believed, one quarter’s contributions), there was nothing in the balance sheet to show bow the money was being expended.”

Everywhere complaints are being made of the filching of members of the small societies by the large companies, who with their 100,000 agents are ever enticing members into their clutches. The National Union of Women Workers alone attributed the loss of thousands of members to this cause. The cost of administration and carrying out the edicts of the autocrats of Bucking­ham Gate falls very heavily upon the small bodies, and hence many of them fear that their doom is near.

The National Insurance Combine is already getting ready to absorb these associations, and by this means not only take over the State In­surance business, but also increase their highly lucrative life insurance business as well. They have therefore issued the following circular to their superintendents :

To the Superintendent.
Dear Sir,
“Many of the small Approved Societies realising the great difficulties experienced in administering the National Insurance Act, are contemplating transferring their State Members en bloc to larger and more efficiently managed Societies. It will be well, therefore, for you to be constantly on the alert, and if you should hear of any Society dissolving or contemplating dissolution, at once open negotiations with its Secretary with a view to the ultimate transfer­ence of their State Members to the National Amalgamated Approved Society. By doing this you will stand a good chance of obtaining a large increase of State Members in your District with a minimum amount of trouble to yourself and your Agents, and thus providing a further field for the prosecution of our Life Assurance Business.
“If you succeed in getting into touch with a Society which is being dissolved, you should at once forward all particulars you can obtain and await instructions.
“It is most important that you do not bind this Society in any way as it is essential that a full investigation be made into the affairs of the transferring Society before we can give any decision as to whether or not we are prepared to take over the Society.”

The anxiety to increase their industrial life assurance business can easily be understood if reference is made to the official figures in the returns issued under the Assurance Companies Act, 1906 (No. 334 of 1912). During the year the amount received in premiums for industrial Insurance amounted to £15,707,214, and the claims paid totalled £6,205,793. In the Ordinary Life Assurance, however, the premiums amounted to £28,994,404, out of which the insured received £21,453,454 in claims paid, £2,265,911 for surrendered policies, and £1,274,499 in bonuses to the insured. Judge, then, what a fine thing for the companies In­dustrial Insurance (policies under £20) really is and how much more the shareholders make out of it than out of Ordinary Life Assurance.

Once inside these mighty organisations the insured persons find themselves faced by carefully arranged machinery designed to prevent the insured getting much out of the funds and with not a care about curing disease. The me­thods pursued are varied, but long ago they realised that the doctor was the chief agent. To-day, therefore, one finds the Insurance trusts spending a penny per head for medical referees working for the companies, whose express busi­ness is to save money for their employers. No tricks are too dirty for them in their attempt to stamp the working class as malingers, and as Sir John Collie confessed (“National Insurance Gazette,” 30.8.13):

“Fortunately in most cases it was a contest between knowledge and ignorance, and in such matters the ignorant are very heavily handicapped.”

Should a sick visitor catch a sick woman engaged in home duties whilst “on the funds,” opportunity is seldom lost to stop payment on the ground of “incapacity not evident,” even though the woman is unable to go to work and may be merely trying to look after her children.

The spirit of the companies’ administration may be gathered from a letter from a superin­tendent in a factory town recently received which stated that though the woman claimant was pregnant she should be carefully watched, as she appeared to have “nothing else” the matter with her ! The doctor certified debility.

This is on a level with the reports made by the referees. A typical case is here quoced from the cases submitted to the Commissioners :

“A charwoman (177). Pregnant and expects to be delivered in about three weeks. Beyond the pregnancy there is nothing wrong with her, and as I am instructed that pregnancy, per se, is not sickness, I have marked her fit for work.”

The effect of the great industrial companies on the working of Insurance may be gathered from a case reported in the “Oddfellows’ Maga­zine” for June, 1913 :

“A man at Attleborough who is an insured member of the Prudential Approved Society, became ill over a fortnight since. His insurance cards were duly stamped, entitling him to sick­ness benefit from the commencement of his ill­ness, and on application to the agent of the Prudential Society for the first week’s sickness benefit, the man’s wife duly received the 10s. due, but on her application for the second week’s, it was said she was informed there was no money for her that week, nor would there be much the following week, as there was 17s. ar­rears (17 weeks at 1s. per week) due on the husband’s life policy, and the sick pay would have to go to make up these arrears.”

The power of the Combine is so great that by arrangement amongst the various Societies they have resolved not to allow transfers from one society to another, even though we were frequently informed that we had a free choice of society. This arrangement applies to the Prudential, Liverpool Victoria, Royal Liver, Royal Co-operative, Scottish Legal, the Salvation Army, as well as to most of the Industrial Companies’ Approved Societies. In accordance with he demands of the Companies the all-powerful Commissioners (without Parliamentary sanction) decided to adopt the half-yearly card. Apart from its consequences to the staffs of the Socie­ties, its effect upon workingmen will be greater than is anticipated. Even at the present time, with a quarterly card, it is difficult to get a job if the card is blank—employers rejecting work­ers who have been “on the shelf” for long. What will be the chances of “finding a boss” when the latter can see the whole six months back at a glance ?

This brings us near to the subject of unemployment insurance, which will be considered in a future issue by


Leave a Reply