175 years ago, Britain was gripped by true poverty. Not just the kind where taxing the car and buying some new curtains would see you slip into the red but one where generations of one family could be found existing in damp, unheated cellars or attics.
It was truly a wretched existence for thousands. We have the works of Charles Dickens to paint a far truer-to-life picture than anything that could be written here.
Massive unemployment, no social security or NHS left people with few choices other than parish relief, the poorhouse, begging, the local pawnbroker or crime. The most likely prospect was starvation, illness or death.
Nowhere was the problem more endemic than in Liverpool: swelled by the many thousands of Irish families fleeing the famine, no fewer than 300,000 settled in the city, nearly all penniless with few possessions. So great was the volume of commerce flowing through the port of Liverpool in the nineteenth century that it sometimes eclipsed London.
Out of this appalling squalor and degradation rose the first Burial and Friendly Societies, which were founded in the belief that people had to help themselves as a collective unit to stave off adversity. One of these was the Liverpool Independent Legal Victoria Burial Society (later fondly nicknamed The Vic) founded in 1843 by William Fenton and a few of his friends and associates. They saw that the poor were unable to enjoy even the smallest comforts in life. In death and grief stricken, they couldn’t even afford a decent burial for loved ones who had sadly died from malnutrition or inevitable disease. So the idea was that for a halfpenny or one penny a week, they could do just that.
These men were so focused in their vision that The Vic grew quickly. People were summoned to meetings by posters and bell-ringers; at first in Liverpool, but then throughout the land. At those meetings, the public were told of The Vic’s aims and thousands more joined.
The expansion was astonishing - not only in the volume of business but in the variety of services that became available over time. No longer was it merely a question of meeting funeral expenses, and as Victorian prosperity grew, so did the desire to put away regular sums to provide healthy cash payments in later years.
Throughout the 20th century, and taking into account the dawn of the Welfare State, the ‘role’ of the insurance policy has changed immeasurably and so has The Vic – or rather LV= as we are now known. We’ve never forgotten our roots though, and to this day we still remain focused on providing products and services to customers to help them feel secure and plan for the future.
Kellie Wilkins, Group Brand Communications at LV=
LV= serves over 5.8 million customers with a range of financial products. We are the UK’s largest friendly society and a leading financial mutual. We are currently the UK’s joint number one brand for Insurance and Investments, according to the 2016 YouGov Brand Index Buzz Rankings. We offer our services direct to consumers, as well as through IFAs and brokers.