In 1908 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed an Act that is often regarded as one of the foundations of modern social welfare in the United Kingdom. The Act provided for a non-contributory old age pension for people over the age of 70, with the cost being borne by younger generations. This pension would be paid at a rate of 5s a week to individuals of the agreed age and 7s 6d for married couples. There were around half a million individuals who were eligible so the level of benefit was deliberately set low to encourage workers to also make their own provision for retirement.
In order to be eligible for this weekly payment the claimant had to be earning less than £31. 10s. per year. They also had to pass a ‘character test’ because only those with a ‘good character’ could receive the pensions and each claiming individual also had to have been a UK resident for at least 20 years! That was not all – people who hadn’t worked their whole life were also not eligible for their five shillings a week! These were not the only ones who were excluded from their 5 shillings.
Those in receipt of poor relief; people being held in what were then called ‘lunatics asylums’; persons sentenced to prison for ten years after their release; persons convicted of drunkenness (at the discretion of the court), and any person who was guilty of ‘habitual failure to work’ according to one’s ability!
On 31 December 1908 a total of 596,038 pensions had been granted.