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By Justin Smith

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The societies themselves were distressed at the attack on their role. The Oddfellows magazine stormed in September 1911: Working men are waking to the fact that this is a subtle attempt to take from the class to which they belong the administration of the great voluntary organisations which they have built up for themselves, and to hand over the future control to the paid servants of the governing class…. This is not liberty; this is not development of self government, but a new form of autocracy and tyranny not less but the more dangerous because it is benevolent in its intentions.

In 1891 the president of the TUC spoke out in favour of ‘selfhelp’. But the spirit of the time was moving against the societies and in favour of a statutory response. The opposition of the societies was both principled and self-interested: it was felt that working people would be unable to afford two insurance payments, one to the state and one to the societies. Joseph Chamberlain suggested that the societies should administer the state scheme but this did not find favour either. In their opposition to a national pensions scheme the societies could count on the unflinching support of the COS.

In 1904 the first Guild of Help was set up in 24 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR Bradford and by 1917 there were eighty-three in existence. The Guilds (who adopted the motto ‘not alms but a friend’) were co-ordinating bodies along the lines of the COS, but in other respects they were very different, most notably in their attitude towards the state. The Guilds of Help stressed partnership with the statutory bodies and they welcomed the 1911 National Insurance Act on the grounds that it would ‘broaden the outlook for the philanthropist’ (Laybourn 1992).

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