Knowing your history
A people without knowledge of their past history and origin is like a tree without roots – Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey’s statement about a people’s history and origins really strikes a chord with me. I have worked in the PMI industry for many years and during that time have had many conversations concerning the role of private provision when the NHS is meant to be there for all of us.
So, having heard an intriguing tale about National Friendly’s role in the formation of the early NHS, it led me (much to my wife’s exasperation!) to do some late-night reading up from a limited-print book commissioned by the Society in 1968 to celebrate its first 100 years.
National Friendly was started to provide sickness benefits to working men but also – uniquely amongst friendly societies at the time – welcomed working women and children through its doors too. This pioneering stance was way back in 1868, in the days before any state provision, when poverty, poor working conditions, inequality and poor health were huge social issues of the day.
The Society’s system of voluntary insurance was also different from that of other friendly societies. The deposit system which gave us our name (we are still formally known as National Deposit Friendly Society) was cleverly designed so that members’ sickness benefits were partly self-funded through a portion of their weekly contributions. This had the effect of encouraging members to make responsible claims, for the benefit of all members.
Through the later, industrial years of Victorian Britain, National Friendly grew in size and stature to become the largest friendly society by assets and membership. When David Lloyd George introduced his Insurance Act of 1911 it was friendly societies like National Friendly who administered the state benefits, not the government itself. This arrangement continued for the next 35 years, working hand-in-hand with the Society’s voluntary system of self-funded welfare insurance.
One of the biggest upheavals in the Society’s history was the aftermath of the 1942 Beveridge Report proposing huge reforms for national insurance and a new national health service. This threatened to undermine the whole principle of voluntary insurance and the existence of the Society – after all, why would anyone want to stump up hard-earned cash for additional insurance benefits when it was now compulsory to pay for the state benefits through their national insurance stamps?
Courageously, National Friendly took the proverbial bull by its horns, engaging with Lord Beveridge and sponsoring him to take seriously the role of friendly societies in this new era. His influential report led to the government praising the spirit of people taking action to insure themselves and trying to better their lives as a vital component of democracy. It paved the way for new legislation for friendly societies from which the modern National Friendly evolved.
We celebrate 150 years of National Friendly in 2018. Today, the Society branches out with new vigour, developing innovative products in health through its private medical insurance, welfare through its assisted living insurance, and wellbeing through its tax-exempt savings and with-profits bond. We can look to our future with pride in our achievements, knowing that our long-established roots in welfare provision give us a strong and enviable foundation.
Here at National Friendly we’ve always passionately believed that self-insurance has a very important role to play alongside the national health provision and other support from the state, and that is as true today as ever.
Wayne Carter, Head of Sales and Marketing
 The First Hundred Years 1868-1968” printed by Bemrose & Sons Ltd, © National Deposit Friendly Society, 1968
 “Voluntary Action: A Report on Methods of Social Advance” by Lord Beveridge, 1948