A New Start

by | Jan 1, 2024 | Pension History

On New Year’s Day 1909, the first British old age pension funded out of general taxation became payable. Well over 600,000 people were expected to be eligible. The introduction was not straightforward: some criticised the non-contributory nature of the payment while others worried about the cost (expected to be £7.5 million) or that pensions would be made to the ‘non-deserving’. The tax raising 1909 Budget needed to pay for the new pension among other measures was vetoed in the House of Lords, and the subsequent constitutional crisis led to legislation which cemented the supremacy of the Commons.

The means tested weekly payment of 5 shillings was payable at age 70. Those with incomes below £21 a year received the full payment, with a sliding scale applied to higher annual incomes. Pensioners needed to have lived in the UK for 20 years and could be disqualified if they had made themselves poor to qualify, had been imprisoned, or convicted under the Inebriates Act.

Applicants had to complete a form at the Post Office and many needed help to complete it, either because they didn’t know their age – a common response was ‘between 70 and 80’ – or where they were born. One Londoner, asked whether he had lived in Britain for 20 years, replied ‘No. I have lived all my life in Stratford’. Some Post Offices ran out of forms, and crowds only dispersed when assured that more would arrive.

Pensions Archive Trust Director,
Jane Marshall