State pensions were first introduced in Britain in 1908 when the country was a very different place, especially statistically. To qualify for a pension you would have had to have been 70 years old and your claim would have been means tested, with the final decision on whether you received a pension being decided by a panel of nine, which had to include at least two women.
Once over that hurdle, the average person would have received the pension for just 9 years compared with 24 years today. In 1908 life expectancy at their birth would have been about 40 for men and 43 for women and there were 10 workers for every pensioner. In 2008 that ratio has fallen to 4:1 and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be only 2 workers for each pensioner.
The 1908 Old Age Pensions Act provided for a non-contributory old age pension for persons over the age of 70. It was enacted in January 1909 and paid to half a million people.
It paid a weekly pension of between 1s and 5s (10p to 25p) a week for single people and up to 7s 6d (37.5p) for married couples.
The level of benefit was set deliberately low to encourage workers to make their own provision for retirement. In order to be eligible, they had to be earning less than £31.50 per year, and had to pass a 'character test', only those with a 'good character' could receive the pensions. Those who had habitually failed to work or had been imprisoned received nothing from the scheme.
- held British nationality and lived in the country permanently since 1878
- not be in receipt of charitable donations nor detained in a workhouse or mental health asylum
- not served a prison term or been convicted under the Inebriates Act
- not to have refused work when able
A pensioner in 1909 would have paid about 2 shillings rent for one room.
This left 3s for food, fuel etc which would buy: coal (6d), 4 loaves of bread (6d) ¼ lb tea (6d), ½ lb sugar (1d), quart of milk (3d), 7lbs potatoes (3d), ¼ lb cheese (2d), ½ lb cheap cuts meat (3d), leaving 6d over for beer, vegetables and other expenses.
Before 1909 it was necessary to continue working as long as you needed to, meaning that unless you had acquired sufficient money during your lifetime or your family were willing and able to support you in old age you would work until you were no longer physically able. This would almost certainly have been the case of Ellen Barnard who at the age of 59 in 1861 was an agricultural labourer, having lost her husband some years before. John and Ellen's son, Daniel, was also working as an agricultural labourer at the young age of 13.
There are a number of examples to be found in the Ennever and related families of people working at an advanced age and you can see a complete list of these on the "Reports" page, while a selection of the more notable are shown below: