The traditional view of English coal-miners during the second half of the 19th Century suggests that they were notorious
for their lack of thrift and, in particular for their failure to insure against the many risks of a dangerous occupation.
A Mining Journal in 1857 reported:
“It is the first duty of every man to make provision for his family, and upon no one of the labouring classes is the duty more incumbent than upon the miners, for their lives, to use a technical phrase, are doubly hazardous; yet, according to the official returns they would appear to be far behind the rest of the population in providing for themselves and families against accidents”.
Possibly miners were reluctant to become involved in making provision for families in the event of accident, as a result of the cost of the weekly premium which was between 2d and 4½d depending on the type of cover required, and their distrust of the organisation responsible for collecting premiums.
The first Permanent Relief Fund opened in 1862 and for a specified weekly payment could provide pensions and medical relief, but was designed more specifically to insure miners and their dependants against the financial loss to their families, caused by the death of the bread winner.
The benefits by the fund were:
Between 4s-10s per week following an injury at the pit
Cash Allowance of between £5-£23 for death
Weekly allowance for widows of 5s
Weekly allowances of between 2s/2s.6d for orphans
The Fund quickly gained its reputation amongst the mining community, as it never failed to meet its commitments and was well supported by employers who deducted the subscriptions at source. By paying into this Fund, members could be sure that their wives and families would be provided for in the event of an accident and by 1880 the movement claimed to have ¼ of British Miners as its members. In the North-East, two-thirds of mineworkers had joined the Scheme and by 1890 this figure had risen to 90% in Northumberland and Durham.
Alongside the Permanent Relief Fund, the Trade Unions were trying to promote self-help amongst the miners. They were keen to get the message to the men that they needed to rely on themselves to provide financial help in the event of accidents, as the coal owners had demonstrated again and again, no financial help would be forthcoming from them.
The Union therefore promoted self-awareness of the social satisfaction that combined action could bring and were keen to improve family life, greater working stability, fewer children and higher wages. As a result of this new awareness, most miners took up membership of the Permanent Relief Fund.
The following is a list of women and their children from Wheatley Hill who had lost their husband at the pit but who were benefiting from the Permanent Relief Fund: