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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72



The question of a National Pension Fund has been before the Italian Legislature since 1883, but the discussion promises at an early date to result in practical legislation. In July, 1890, a committee of the Chamber of Deputies presented a favourable report on a bill to establish a State-aided old-age pension scheme. That bill proposes to create a National Pension Institute or Corporation. Certain subsidies will be given to the Institute out of the National Exchequer, but, except for the supervision which such a grant naturally involves, it will be independent of the State. Its funds are not to be guaranteed by the Government. The State subsidy is very small. It consists of 60 per cent, of the net annual profits of the Postal Savings Banks and certain judical deposits (about £50,000 a year); certain profits from the note currency and the value of certain notes not presented for payment; the surplus of the fund for public worship reverting to the State in certain contingencies (apparently not to exceed a capital sum of £800,000); and the property of intestates to which the State succeeds as heir. All these sums form a central fund, one-half of the interest on which is to accumulate for fifteen years, and after that three-tenths only, the balance being credited to the subscribers in proportion to their subscription.

The organisation of the Old Age Pension Institute follows the plan of the National Accident Insurance Fund that was started in 1883. The leading savings banks are expected to lend a certain amount of capital without charging interest to give the fund a start. Savings banks or mutual benefit societies which guarantee a fund of £2000 of capital bearing no interest may establish local pension funds, and procure for their subscribers the benefit of the central fund provided by the Government.

Italian workmen or workwomen who are members of a society of mutual aid can alone become subscribers. Each subscriber has a page 22 separate account, and he can pay into it, as and where he pleases, any sum not exceeding £25 a year. He acquires a right to a pension on reaching the age of 60, provided he has been a subscriber for twenty years. He may, however, postpone his pension to a later period in order to increase it. The amount of the pension depends on tie subscriptions augmented by the subscriber's share in the money from the central fund. If he dies before the pension age, his subscription, with compound interest, are returned to his legatees or successor. But in no case may the pension exceed £25 a year, the object being to confine the benefit of the subsidised central fund to workmen.

In supporting the bill to set up a National Pension Institute, the committee of the Chamber of Deputies, while fully appreciating the great work done by the friendly societies, "frankly recognises the fact that, in the actual condition of Italian wages, societies of mutual aid are not alone sufficient to provide a competent pension for aged workmen." The proposal has met with large support from workmen, and it is expected that at an early date the Pension Institute will be established and form no unworthy rival to the National Accident Insurance Fund of 1883, to which was awarded the grand diploma of honour-the highest award at the Paris Exhibition.

The need for some treatment of the poverty of the aged, other than our present charitable aid, is gradually becoming acknowledged, and that some change is inevitable in the near future. What tie nature of that change should be, and how it is to be carried out, are the questions which perplex most minds. Perhaps it will be useful to gather together the threads of discussion on the various pension schemes before the public, and try to indicate the point which has been reached. What, then, is the problem? The community, or more properly speaking, our present rulers, recognise the fact that our aged and infirm members are entitled to be maintained, or partially sustained at the cost of the State, if need be. Some savage tribes, hard pressed for the means of subsistence, have a speedier method of dealing with those who have outlived their usefulness; they knock them out of existence, or leave them behind to starve. Our civilisation, the wealthiest the world has ever seen, has passed the stage of frank murder. England has provided the poor house, have provided the charitable aid. The poor house has not yet erected its head in our midst, and the fervent hope of every true colonist is that years may lap over each other before such an end is attained of having poor houses in this our sunny side of the globe. England, I have said, provides the poor houses, but many poor people over there, rather than submit to the brand of pauperism, prefer to starve to death. Scores of deaths are registered in large populous cities alone from starvation, and how many more were directly due to the same cause no one can say. If a man has succeeded in scraping together a page 23 little hoard for the comfort of his old age, it must be spent before society will lend a helping hand, for no one can get relief as long as he has any means of his own. This law allows the right of relief, but it takes care that humiliation accompanies it. In spite of all this, the extent of dependence in old age is deplorable.

Outside the circle of actual pauperism is another large section of the working classes who manage with difficulty to keep off the poor roll in their old age—sometimes by stinting themselves in the bare necessaries of life; sometimes by ill-afforded help from relatives; sometimes by undertaking light and poorly paid work. How many are in this condition it is impossible to say; but anyone who knows the poor or has studied the evidence on the subject cannot doubt the wide extent of a poverty struggling on in