The Old Age Pensions Act 1908 introduced a non-contributory pension for ‘eligible’ people aged 70 and over. It came into law in January 1909 across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. To be eligible, applicants had to have an income of less than £31 and 10 shillings per annum and had to ‘be of good character’, writes JIM REES


Age is a funny thing. Most teenagers like to add a few years to feel grown-up, or to get into a cinema showing an age restricted film, or being too impatient to wait until they reach their 18th birthday to get an alcoholic drink in a pub. At the other end of the scale, there are those of a certain vintage who knock off a few years.

It’s a harmless foible, but in the early years of the last century there was an epidemic of it. Thousands of people who had been in their late-50s in 1901 were in their early-70s just ten years later!

The reason for this fast-track-ageing was the introduction of the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. Most people had made no financial provision for their later years, so when they became too old to earn, poverty was the inevitable result.

In January 1908, the House of Lords passed a Bill that would introduce the Old Age Pension to alleviate such hardship. It had already been approved by the House of Commons and now all that was required to make it law was the Royal assent.

People over the age of 70 would receive a weekly sum of five shillings (seven shillings and six pence for a married couple), and the cost was to be borne by the working population through an increase in income tax.

While the amount was small, just 25c in today’s money, it was a major leap forward in social thinking.

Applicants had to meet specified criteria. For instance, it was ‘means tested’. No one who had an income in excess of £31-10-0 a year would be eligible. Your morals also had to be checked – only the ‘deserving poor’ need apply – and you had to have been a resident of Britain or Ireland for the previous twenty years.

You also had to show that you had worked all your life, but just how anyone could prove this is a mystery.

Those not eligible included anyone in receipt of Poor Relief; inmates of ‘lunatic asylums’ (the official term of the time, not mine); anyone released from prison less than ten years before the date of application; people with convictions for drunkenness; and anyone who was known to suffer from persistent shyness when it came to looking for work.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own