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1908: Old Age Pen­sions Act

In 1908, for the first time, the state made an agree­ment to pay a pen­sion to the in­dus­tri­ous, el­derly poor – both men and women – with­out con­tri­bu­tions. They sim­ply had to have lived to the age of 70. The Old-Age Pen­sions Act was guided through the House of Com­mons by Lloyd Ge­orge, the new Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer, and the pen­sion be­came known as the ‘Lloyd Ge­orge’, but in fact he had played no part in draft­ing the bill. The age for the pen­sion would most sen­si­bly have been set at 65, but the cost of pro­vi­sion would have been so high the Chan­cel­lor said it would be im­pos­si­ble, the mea­sure was only an ex­per­i­men­tal ‘be­gin­ning’ in the new field of state ac­tion to re­dress poverty, and they had to pro­ceed cau­tiously.

The Act pro­vided for state-funded old-age pen­sions for peo­ple who would re­ceive five shillings a week, with seven and six­pence for mar­ried cou­ples. The level of ben­e­fit was de­lib­er­ately set low to en­cour­age work­ers to also make their own pro­vi­sion for re­tire­ment. Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers favoured a con­trib­u­tory ben­e­fit but many of their back­benchers voted for this Lib­eral mea­sure.

In or­der to be el­i­gi­ble, peo­ple had to have an in­come of less than £31 and 10 shillings per year. They also had to pass a ‘char­ac­ter test’, which ex­cluded many: those in re­ceipt of poor re­lief; ‘lu­natics’ re­sid­ing in asy­lums; peo­ple who had been in prison (in­clud­ing im­pris­on­ment for drunk­en­ness) – for ten years af­ter their re­lease; and any per­son who was guilty of ‘ha­bit­ual fail­ure to work’. Also in­el­i­gi­ble were ‘aliens’ and their wives, thus ex­clud­ing im­mi­grants who had not taken out Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship.

A man fill­ing out the forms to re­ceive his first ‘old-age

p en­sion’ in a Post Of­fice

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