The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 established for the UK a universal non-contributory pension for those over the age of 70. You had to be a UK resident for at least 20 years and pass a ‘character’ test. The pension was means tested with the maximum 5 shillings per week for a single person and 7 shillings and sixpence for a married couple going to those with incomes below £21 a year and reduced on a sliding scale for those with incomes between £21 and £31 10 shillings a year.
You could be disqualified if you’d made yourself deliberately poor, been imprisoned or convicted for drunkenness under the Inebriates Act.
However there was no medal made to commemorate this historic foundation stone of the welfare state, so when this piece was offered to us, we felt it has an importance in social history terms.
The case is of high quality leather with a gold embossed inscription indicating that this represented the recipient’s 1st pension on August 31st 1918, nearly 10 years after the Act came into force.
Opening the box reveals an Edward VII crown (5 shillings). The coin is gold plated and engraved 1st PENSION AUGUST 31ST MANY HAPPY RETURNS.
Unfortunately there is no name but even so, this is a really unusual relic of the early days of our pension system. The age of entitlement came down to 65 for men and 60 for women but in recent years retirement ages are rising again and doubtless will be back to 70 before long. Crack on!
As a postscript, defacing a coin in circulation has always been questionable if not downright revolutionary (think of convict transportation tokens, Votes for Women and more recently the Irish Troubles). By 1918 the silver price had gone up so that the face value of the silver coinage was less than the bullion price. The Royal Mint in 1920 therefore was obliged to change the silver content of the circulating coinage from sterling (0.925) to 0.5 (50%). This engraved coin although legal tender was in the process of being no longer used actively as money. 1902 was the last year of sterling silver crowns and none were made for circulation until 1927-1935.
Reference: Old Age Pensions Act 1908 – Commons Library Standard Note – http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN04817/old-age-pensions-act-1908
From Howard Simmons’ desk – coin available for GBP 175.00 including postage.