Old-Age Pensions: A Typical Reform

At the time that the OLD AGE pension measure was passed by Parliament it was pointed out in this journal that its chief purpose was to save the rates. It was to encourage old people to starve outside the workhouse rather than go in and be kept at treble the cost by the ratepayers. Evidence of this fact has been repeatedly given, and to-day, owing to the enormous increase in the cost of living, the old-age pensioners are dying off like flies. Such paragraphs as the following speak eloquently of this :

    “‘LIFE ON 1s. 6d. A WEEK.”
      “‘If they can live on Is. 6d. a week each and don’t get starved, a good many of us eat too much,’ said the coroner at the inquest on a Bethnal-green woman aged 70. She and her aged husband had lived on the latter’s a old-age pension of 5s., out of which 2s. was paid in rent. Occasionally the man earned an odd 6d. The doctor said that death was not accelerated by want.”
                                                         “Daily Chronicle,” June 16.

After all, if people who have reached the age when the stomach has lost its elasticity will gorge themselves on 1s. 6d. a week they must expect to pay the penalty.

The same paper pointed out a short while back that, owing to the rising cost of food, old-age pensioners were being forced to apply for admission to public institutions, “Thus defeating the object of the Act.”

The sentence I have italicised is significant; it is a fact not often admitted.

Another instance (from the “Daily Telegraph” of June 12th) throws a little further light on this capitalist reform. The comments of Dr. Waldo are worth thinking over.

      At Southwark, Dr. F. J. Waldo held an inquest on the body of Edward Heath, aged 85, who died in St. George’s Infirmary. The evidence showed that the deceased was for some time in Christchurch Institution, S.E., and during that time his old-age pension of 5s. a week was in abeyance. Quite recently he left the institution, and on May 29 he visited the Customs and Excise officer at the Hop Exchange with a view to having his pension renewed.
      Questioned by the Coroner, Mr. James Murray, the Customs officer, said the deceased should have gone to the Post Office, got a form, and either brought it to witness or posted it.
      Coroner: Would you then have given him 5s?
      Witness: Oh, no; the form would have been sent to the Pensions Committee, and probably a week or more would have elapsed before the deceased got his 5s.
      Coroner: That looks like red-tape. This poor chap might bare starved before his paper came back. If the deceased had no money to supplement the pension would you have given him the 5s?
      Witness: Certainly I would.
      Coroner: Surely that is wrong. A man cannot live on 5s a week! It has often struck me that the law wants altering. It is not the fault of the pensions officers, but I have had numbers of instances of poor people dying in a horribly neglected condition while trying to subsist on 5s a week. But for the pension they would probably have been in some public institution, where they would have been properly cleansed and cared for. In this case the deceased was encouraged to leave the institution and try and live on the 5s.
       Dr. Thomas Massie said be believed that a very large majority of old-age pensioners did not go on the Poor Law at all.
      The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and added a rider to the effect that an old-age pension of 5s a week was not sufficient unless there was something to supplement it.
       Coroner: In that case the pension is not an unmixed blessing.

In other words, when the ruling class grant us, with great flourish of trumpets and braying of asses, an epoch-making reform, it is all spoof. It is their way of putting something into their OWN pockets. It is the hard-headed British working man who is the mug—every time.

F. C. Watts

Leave a Reply