Old-Age Pensions First Paid
The 1st of January 1909 AD
David Lloyd George was a womaniser, inside-trader, and when Prime Minister purveyor of titles to anyone who could pay. But he was also one of our great reforming politicians. It was he as Chancellor of the Exchequer who steered the Old-Age Pensions Act 1908 through Parliament, in the third year of the Liberal Government by then headed by Herbert Asquith but still with the imprint of Henry Campbell-Bannerman upon it.
The Liberal Reforms had already brought in free school meals and a huge increase in scholarships for working-class children to attend secondary schools, and would later include health insurance and unemployment benefit, albeit paid for just a short period; most of these measures were fought over tooth-and-claw by the Conservatives.
The old-age pension provision that became available from January 1 1909 was very limited – the step was radical but careful, the payment kept low and means-tested to encourage personal responsibility and private pension provision: those over 70 with income below £21 per annum were eligible to 5s a week (when an average worker earned six times that sum) or 7s 6d for married couples. And though paid via the Post Office to avoid the stigma of poor law payments it was still subject to conditions that seem strange now: those found of bad character could be denied the money, likewise drunkards, the work-shy and ex-convicts for 10 years after their sentences ended. But it was a beginning, a step towards dignity in old-age for the half a million who qualified then, and for many millions thereafter.
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