The Fraud of Old Age Pensions

On Nov. 21st. 1910, Mr. Lloyd George, speaking at Mile End, made the following statement:

“We are going to bring in an additional 200,000 poor old people (cheers) who are now branded with the stain of pauperism. We are going to make them State pensioners—like the Dukes.”—Daily Chronicle, Nov. 22.

A few days later, conversing with Mr. Harold Bigbie, he said, speaking of the Old Age Pension scheme in general:

“How simply, and with what imperceptible disturbance of the social order, have we introduced old age pensions! By this act of justice we have sweetened the bitterest thoughts of the poor and lightened the darkest hours of their existence. That which they most dreaded—old age—is now an anticipation of honourable ease. The workhouse has become the chimney corner. The spectre has become an angel.” Daily Chronicle, Nov. 24th.

Unfortunately, the idyl pictured above of the pensioners taking their “honourable ease” in their own “chimney corner,” content with themselves, the Liberal Party and the world, has crumbled at the touch of brutal reality. Strange to say, most of the inmates of the workhouses who were eligible to come out on Jan. 1st to take their “honourable ease” on 5s. a week have refused to do so. They doubtless think it more to their advantage to remain in the workhouses, even at the risk of being stigmatised as paupers, than to come out and starve on the “munificence” of the Liberal Government. Such is the ingratitude of the working class !

According to the Time (27.12.10) only 9% of the whole of the workhouse inmates now qualified elected to avail themselves of the new Act, and even of this small proportion, it is fully expected that 90% will return to the workhouse in a short time.

The following extracts, taken at random, are instructive as showing the feeling prevailing among the people for whose benefit the measure was supposed to have been passed :

“The Workhouse Visiting Committee of the Stepney Board of Guardians report that out of 224 persons in the workhouse eligible for the old-age pension in Jan. next, only 65 have declared their intention of applying for it. . . out of 139 old people in the Dover Workhouse who are also eligible, only 13 have decided to apply.” Evening News, 9.11.10.

“At Meriden Board of Guardians meeting yesterday, the master reported that only two of the 38 aged inmates wished to apply for the old-age pensions, declining on the ground that 5s. weekly is not enough to keep them.” Daily Sketch, 9.11.10.

“Yesterday, at a meeting of the Hampstead Board of Guardians, it was stated that 11 out of a total of 103 inmates eligible for old-age pensions had decided to accept them.” Islington Gazette, 30.12.10.

In St. George’s Workhouse, Fulham, “400 (inmates) are eligible for old-age pensions and 90 applied three months ago. Age, infirmity and fear of starvation have reduced the 90 still further. After the claims of all have been settled, perhaps 40 will have made their re-entry into the world of worry and work again.” Daily Mail, 5.1.11.

That it is impossible for any man or woman to subsist on 5s. a week must be apparent to anyone looking at the matter without prejudice. All the sentimental cant recently talked by the capitalist apologists as to the benefits that will accrue to the workers by the removal of the pauper disqualification has been done with a set purpose. Mr. Lloyd George and his followers, knowing the abhorrence in which the workhouses are held by the average member of the working class, have used their knowledge to bind still tighter the shackles upon the workers. The former workhouse inmates, who have now, by reason of the 5s. per week provided, been able to take up their residence with relatives or friends, have only been able to do so at the expense of such relatives or friends. It being impossible for them to live upon the 5s. per week alone, it follows that the extra amount necessary for their subsistence must come from the pockets of those with whom they live. This means a stinting of the entire household in the necessaries of life, and eventually a general lowering of the level of subsistence of the working class.

With regard to those men and women who were before in receipt of outdoor relief, and have now had given to them 5s. per week pension instead, it is yet to be seen whether this sum will compensate them for the amount previously received from the poor rate and the various charity organisations. As was shown in the report of the recent Poor Law Commission, outdoor paupers have been in the habit of obtaining considerably more than 5s. per week, owing (as the report puts it) to the laxity with which relief has been administered.

As a matter of fact, these old age pension schemes actually mean a more economical administration of Poor Law relief in general, and the only people who are likely to benefit by their adoption are the ratepayers. That this is the case may be seen even thus early by the following paragraph:

“Nottingham ratepayers will benefit, it is expected, to the extent of a twopenny rate as the result of the removal of the pauper disqualification. The clerk to the Board of Guardians stated yesterday that the weekly reduction in the outdoor relief amounted to £146, and nearly 800 fewer persons received relief. In addition 34 persons had left the workhouse to receive the pension, thereby effecting a further saving.” Morning Leader, 18.1.11.

So this much vaunted measure resolves itself into a decrease in the rates, the increased prestige of the Liberal party, and a change for the worse in the conditions of existence appertaining to the workers.

By a strange coincidence, in the Daily Mail of Jan. 5th, two paragraphs appear, side by side, one expressing the doubts and difficulties of a number of workhouse inmates as to their being able to exist on 5s. per week, the other showing the impossibility experienced by an Army officer of living on 10s. per day ! The juxtaposition of these two paragraphs is truly a touch of unconscious irony, and should provide food for thought to those who still believe in the possibilities of existence on the pension doled out by capitalism to its worn-out slaves.


Leave a Reply