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provision against adversity, he will be utterly destitute should he lose his employment, be attacked with sickness, or meet with an accident. And though he were fortunate enough to escape these evils, the respite is temporary only. When he becomes old and unfit for labour, "poverty will come upon him as one that travelleth, and his want as an armed man. And to avoid being starved, he will have to renounce the society and the freedom to which he has been accustomed, and consent to be immured and despised in a work-house.
But even where the means and the desire to save some portion of their earnings have co-existed, the want of a safe place of deposit for their savings, where they would yield a reasonable interest, and whence they might be drawn at pleasure, has formed a serious obstacle to the formation of a habit of accumulation among labourers. Public banks do not generally receive a less deposit than £10; and there are but few amongst the labouring classes who find themselves suddenly masters of so large a sum; "while, to accumulate so much by the weekly or monthly saving of a few shillings, appears at first view almost a hopeless task; and should an individual have the resolution to attempt it, the temptation to break in upon his little stock at every call of necessity might be too strong to resist. At all events, the progressive addition of interest is lost during the period of accumulation, and it even frequently happens that the chest of the servant or labourer is not safe from the depredations of the dishonest; while the very feeling of insecurity which such a circumstance inspires must operate as a fatal check to habits of saving." A similar effect results from the instances that have often occurred, where those poor persons, who had in despite of every discouragement accumulated a little capital, have been tempted, by the offer of a high rate of interest, to lend it to persons of doubtful characters, whose bankruptcy has involved them in irremediable ruin. It is plain, therefore, that few things are likely to be of greater advantage, with
1 Duncan on Parish Banks, p. 3.
a view to the formation of those new and improved habits which must necessarily result from the diffusion of a spirit of frugality and forethought among the poor, than the institution of savings banks, or places of safe, convenient, and advantageous deposit for their smallest savings. They no longer can plead the want of facility of investment, in excuse for their wasting what little they can save from their wages in gin shops, or other idle or injurious gratifications. They may now feel assured that their savings, if they carry them to a savings bank, and the interest accumu lated upon them, will be faithfully preserved to meet their future wants. And those only who are so thoughtless or so degraded as to prefer idleness and dissipation to industry and economy, will decline availing themselves of whatever means of accumulation may be in their power. The habit once contracted of carrying their surplus earnings to the savings bank, they will find that it involves no privation, and that the consciousness of having improved their position and provided some security against unlooked-for evils, is in itself a high enjoyment.
It may be said, perhaps, that these statements apply rather to what savings banks should be than to what they are; and it must be confessed that instances have occurred in which these establishments have been grossly mismanaged, and the funds of the contributors been wasted and embezzled. Luckily, however, these instances bear but a small proportion to the entire number. of savings banks. And it is to be hoped that means may be devised to prevent their recurrence, and to afford to the depositors that perfect security which is so desirable, and so essential to the completeness of the system.
The deposits in savings banks are very large, having amounted, in Great Britain, on the 20th Nov. 1850, to the immense sum of £31,208,322. But the practical value of the system must not, we are sorry to say, be measured by the magnitude of the deposits. Advantage has not, in truth, been taken of it to nearly the same extent by those work-people for whose use it was mainly intended, as by the classes im
mediately above them. Tradesmen and farmers, and their families, and many individuals belonging to the middle classes, have not been slow to avail themselves of the advantages of savings banks; and they have been a good deal resorted to by domestic servants, especially by females. But ordinary labourers, and particularly those working by the day, have been seldom found, at least compared with those now referred to, carrying their surplus earnings to savings banks. This is much to be regretted; for they are the very class to which these institutions would be of the greatest service. Perhaps something might be done to overcome or lessen this culpable neglect of their own obvious interests on the part of workpeople. A man who will not avail himself of the means in his power for securing himself against want, has but slender claims on the bounty of others. And it were well, perhaps, if the treatment of the poor applying for relief were made materially to depend on the extent to which they had availed themselves, when in health and in employment, of these and similar institutions.
It is unnecessary to engage in this place in any discussion with respect to the comparative merits of friendly societies and savings banks. Both are excellent, and well fitted to promote the advantage of the labouring classes. The promotion of habits of accumulation is but a secondary object in the formation of a friendly society; and though it certainly has that effect, it has it, generally speaking, in a less degree than a savings bank. Its grand object is to provide a security against future want-to guard against those accidents and casualties to which all are liable, and against which no individual efforts can ever afford an effectual protection. A savings bank is unquestionably also a most valuable institution; but it does not supersede the other. It does not give the poor man that security which is given him by his becoming a member of a well-constituted friendly insurance society. Nothing, therefore, can be more unreasonable and ill-founded than the hostility to friendly socie
ties manifested by many patrons of savings banks. Both institutions are intended to promote the improvement of the poor, and to enable them to support themselves. And being equally well calculated to effect these desirable objects, it is, to say the least, not a little inconsequential and absurd for those who are the friends of the one to labour to misrepre sent the other and to bring it into disrepute.
It would, however, be unjust not to mention, that though some of the patrons and supporters of savings banks are opposed to friendly societies, there are many amongst them who take a more correct and comprehensive view of the subject, and who are equally friendly to both. The advantages of friendly societies are nowhere better stated than in the tract, to which we have already referred, of the late Dr. Duncan, of Ruthwell, who was one of the first to promote the foundation of savings banks, and to whose philanthropy and intelligence these institutions have been largely indebted. "There is one point of view," says he, "in which the friendly society scheme can claim a decided advantage. An individual belonging to the labouring part of the community cannot expect, by making the most assiduous use of the provisions of a savings banks, to arrive at sudden independence; on the contrary, it is only by many years of industry and economy that the flattering prospects held out by that system can be realized. But health is precarious, and accident or disease may in a moment put an end to all the efforts of the most active and expert. It is under such circumstances that a very striking difference appears in favour of the friendly society scheme. He who should trust entirely to the progressive accumulation of his funds in a savings bank, might now find himself fatally disappointed. If he had not been fortunate enough to realize a considerable capital before the sources of his subsistence were dried up, the illness of a few weeks or months might reduce him to a state of want and dependence, and cause him to experience the unhappiness of mourning over impotent efforts and abortive hopes. On the other hand, the man who has used the precaution to
become a member of a friendly society has made a comfortable and permanent provision against the sudden attack of disease and accident. The moment he comes to acquire the privilege of a free member, which, by the rules of most of those institutions is at the end of the third year after he began to contribute, he is safe from absolute want, and the regular manner in which his weekly allowance is paid him enhances its value. Nor is this provision liable to any of those objections, which have been so strongly urged against the system of poor rates. Instead of degrading and vitiating the mind, its tendency is directly the reverse. The poor man feels that he is reaping the fruit of his own industry and forethought. He has purchased, by his own prudent care, an honourable resource against the most common misfortunes of life; and even when deprived of the power to labour for a livelihood, an honest pride of independence remains to elevate and ennoble his character." 1
Influence of the Poor-Laws over the Condition of the
Ir would be foreign to the purposes of this treatise to enter into any lengthened inquiries in regard to the principles and practical operation of the poor-laws. They were instituted. principally with a view to the advantage of the poor. But by providing a refuge and a support to the latter in periods of revulsion and distress, they powerfully contribute to maintain the public tranquillity, and consequently conduce to the prosperity of the other classes. Practically, however, their influence is of a mixed description, and is in part at least unfavourable. It would be easy to show that in countries
1 An Essay on the Nature and Advantages of Parish Banks, 2nd Edition, p. 50.