Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some models of respectability

In yesterday's budget Chancellor George Osborne promised that pensioners will receive a high interest savings option and will no longer have to use their pension pot to buy annuities. Good news for wealthy pensions, but what about the rest?  

When the new old age pension came into effect on January 1, 1909 there was more of a level playing field. Or was there? Approximately 600,000 people were entitled to the pension at an estimated cost of £7,500,000.  The Times reported many claimants were waiting outside their local post office for the doors to open, but in Swindon there was no evidence of such unseemly behaviour.

The North Wilts Herald reported that contrary to expectations “the happy recipients have shown themselves becomingly dignified by delaying their visits to the office until the streets were well aired.”

“It was amusing to see them patiently waiting their turn,” the report continued, “some palsied and physically degenerated, and others bearing their weight of years with astonishing ease.”

Money saving changes in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 introduced the notion of ‘the deserving poor’ and the spectre of the dreaded workhouse was only too real for many, especially the elderly. Although campaigning for an old age pension began in the 1880s people were forced to remain in work until they were no longer physically able to do so well in to the 20th century, a situation which looks set to return in the 21st.

The Old Age Pension Bill was formally introduced by Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of May 1908 and received the Royal Assent on August 1, but the scheme was quickly revealed as being fraught with anomalies.

The weekly pension was 5s for a single person, 7s 6d for a married couple.  It was set low to encourage workers to make their own provision for old age and applicants had to pass a ‘character test.’

Those eligible for the old age pension had to be over 70 years old and with an annual income not exceeding £31 10s.  Among those who were deemed ineligible included anyone convicted of drunkenness or who had presented a ‘habitual failure to work,’ and more problematic, anyone who had recently been in receipt of any form of poor relief.

In Wimbledon an elderly couple with considerable savings and a comfortable lifestyle declared their income from investments at 11s a week and their rent at 12s and were entitled to a pension.  However, an old woman in the same borough, who was described as very poor and needy and badly in want of a pension, had received 2lb of tea in poor relief.  The Pensions Committee were advised that she was not entitled to a pension.

The Advertiser interviewed Swindon Post Master Mr A. Bull who told a reporter that between 600-700 applications had been made throughout the town and district.

At the General Post Office in Regent Circus about a hundred applications were received.  “Everything passed off satisfactorily,” said Mr. Bull.  “The old people, as far as I saw them, were very respectable.”

Some respectable old people

An unidentified Swindon woman photographed by Henry Hemmins

They might not be old - and I'm wondering how 'respectable' these two thespians were! They look a bit saucy to me. Percy North and Alice M. Tolchard appearing at the Empire.

 An unidentified Swindon man pictured by Jules Sigismund Guggenheim

 William Morris - founder of The Swindon Advertiser - the model of respectability.

And a particular favourite from the Andy Binks Collection of scary (but respectable) ladies

This group looks respectable - but do they have the potential to turn nasty? 1910 Lower Village looking up from Large's Farm, Blunsdon.

And finally - the Goddard family. They couldn't be anything other than respectable - although I'm not sure about the bowler hat wearing youth.

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