The current political and economic environment could see friendly societies returning to their roots. Neil Armitage is a believer.
According to the Association of Financial Mutuals’ website: “Mutuals are founded on a premise that strikes a chord with the consumer conscience.”
Friendly Societies, which are Mutual organisations, have been around for hundreds of years.
They emerged from the notion that if a group of people contributed into a mutual fund, they could receive benefits in times of need. Early meetings were often held as a social gathering according to their members’ religious, political, or trade affiliations and were used to collect subscriptions.
Before the welfare state, and for the greater part of the 19th century, for many working people such funds were often the only way a working person could receive help in times of ill health or old age. If the breadwinner fell ill and their family received no wages, illness and death could leave many destitute or living in the poorhouse.
So the importance of Mutuals to their members, and the tremendous social service they provided, cannot be overstated. By the late 19th century, there were about 27,000 Friendly Societies in existence.
Friendly Societies were the precursor to the welfare state and the so-called Poor Laws. Before the introduction of the welfare state and employer health insurance, they provided essential financial and social support to their members.
In today’s society
Many of these Societies still exist today and have developed into mutually run financial organisations, offering financial services often coupled with a benevolence package for their members which is made available at no extra cost.
When the welfare state was introduced the number of Friendly Society members naturally dropped. However, with today’s austerity measures driving successive Governments to review the scope of services provided by the state, it is likely that Friendly Societies will again be available to plug the gap and help people with a solution to a number of life’s needs.
There is an opportunity to fill the gap in today’s environment, but with a modern twist.Not a day passes when the NHS isn’t in the news with calls for scaling back and the real need to overhaul the system. This has led to real concerns from the public about getting access to qualified GPs which itself has resulted in increased pressure on A&E departments.
Many Friendly Societies are in a position to be able to supplement the government’s provision of health and welfare. The Societies that already offer non-financial products through their benevolence packages, such as healthcare services, are complementing the NHS and, with sufficient uptake of the services on offer, could help ease the burden on the welfare regime.
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