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The conditions under which this committee recommended the allowance of a pension were that the recipient be a British subject, at least 65 years of age, not convicted during twenty years prior to the application for a pension of an offense involving a sentence to penal servitude or imprisonment without the option of a fine, not the recipient of poor relief other than medical relief during the same period unless under exceptional circumstances, and without an income of more than 10s. ($2.43) per week. The applicant should also be a resident of the particular district in which he made his application and should satisfy the authorities that he had endeavored, to the best of his ability, by his own industry and providence, to care for himself and his dependents. Pensions were to be not less than 5s. ($1.22), nor more than 7s. ($1.70) per week, according to the cost of living in the locality, the funds to be raised in part by local taxation by additions to the poor rate” and in part by government aid. The plans of the committee included a reform of the poor-law administration, without which they did not think it possible that “the needs of many of the aged and deserving poor” could be met.
It may be noted here that recipients of poor relief are subjected to certain legal disqualifications, in order to stimulate efforts to avoid “going on the rates.” Furthermore, to insure that “the situation of the paupers shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent laborer of the lowest class,” the relief given is of such a limited nature that it is said to be often “wholly inadequate to provide for the reasonable comfort and even for the barest necessities of the poor;" while even this is so administered that “many aged people only accept relief under pressure of illness or severe distress, and often endure great suffering in order to avoid it." The Poor Law was intended to represent the state's provision for those who were classed as “the unworthy poor,” but the fact remained, as already indicated, that there were large numbers, not properly so classed, who were without adequate support, and it was largely to guard these from humiliation and hardship that the select committee of 1899 made its report favorable to a pension system.
A departmental committee was therefore appointed “to make investigations on the financial aspects of the proposals of the select committee.” This committee reported in 1900, submitting tables as to the numbers of persons to be provided for at various dates of commencement, and at different subsequent periods, using the ages 65, 70, and 75 as starting points. The data furnished were in part revised on the basis of the census of 1901 and republished in 1907 in connection with a preliminary memorandum on the subject of oldage pensions. Inasmuch as the law of 1908 adopted the age of 70 years as the earliest age for receiving a pension, the tables for that age only are reproduced. These were basea on an income test of 10s. ($2.43) per week, or £26 ($126.53) per year, as against an income of £31 10s. ($153.29) per year, adopted by the act of 1908, as the limit at and above which no pension would be allowed. This would reduce the numbers here given as excluded by the income test and correspondingly increase the pensionable remainder. The tables show the estimated situation in 1907, 1911, and 1921.
ESTIMATED NUMBER OF PERSONS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 70 YEARS OF AGE AND
UPWARD AND OF PERSONS ELIGIBLE FOR PENSIONS, 1907, 1911, 1921.
(Source: Old-Age Pensions, Tables with Preliminary Memorandum, 1907.)
The tables also presented estimates of cost, but the basis of the estimate differs from the provisions of the act. It may be noted, however, that the cost of administration was placed at 4 per cent of the pension fund, and this fund was estimated to be reduced by a saving of one-third of the outdoor relief charge in 1911 and of twothirds this charge in 1921. On this basis a total estimated cost for the United Kingdom in 1907 of £6,119,000 ($29,778,114) would advance to £7,265,000 ($35,355,123) in 1911 and £9,005,000 ($43,822,833) in 1921. The cost of outdoor relief in England and Wales was £3,797,661 ($18,482,317) in the year 1904–5, approximating 10s. ($2.43) per capita. The total cost of poor relief in England and Wales for the same year was £13,851,981 ($67,410,666), the amount for the United Kingdom being £16,507,690 ($80,334,673). What the effect of the law will be on the cost of such relief and to what cost it will itself attain are matters that must be worked out by experience. The estimates of the Government have been exceeded by the appearance of an unexpectedly large number of applicants, and official scrutiny of the lists is said to have been undertaken in some localities, notably in Ireland, in order to rectify such errors and improper claims as might be found.
PRESENT PURPOSE AND SCOPE OF PENSION PROVISIONS.
A perusal of the law (see appendix) shows that it contemplates a constant interaction between the two methods of relief, i.e., under the provisions of the Poor Law and those of the law providing for old-age pensions. How this will be borne out by experience through a series of years remains to be seen, but according to the reports presented for the current year in the Board of Trade Labour Gazette the number of paupers in January, 1909 (the first month of the operation of the law) was 10 per 10,000 greater than for the corresponding month in 1908. A similar increase is noted in February as compared with the previous February, while compared with the month of January, 1909, the increase was 2 per 10,000. For March there was an increase of 13 per 10,000 as compared with a year previous and of 2 per 10,000 as compared with the preceding month. In April the increase as compared with the preceding year continued, but at a lower rate, the number being 8 per 10,000, while as compared with the month of March there was a decrease of 11 per 10,000. The month of May showed an increase of 6 per 10,000 as compared with the previous May, and a decrease of 3 per 10,000 in comparison with the preceding month. Succeeding months show similar slight increases in comparison with the corresponding month of the previous year, until October and November, which showed decreases of 1 per 10,000 and 6 per 10,000, respectively, as compared with the same months of 1908.
The scheme arranged for grants of free pensions to those who apply therefor, who have attained a designated age and are within designated financial conditions. It may therefore be characterized as partial, voluntary, and noncontributory, though as to the last point the objection was raised by a governmental supporter of the bill that “as long as you have taxes on commodities which are consumed practically by every family in the country, there is no such thing as a noncontributory scheme. When a scheme is financed from public funds it is just as much a contributory scheme as one financed directly by means of contributions arranged on the German or any other basis. Again, a workman who has contributed by his strength and his skill to the increase of the national wealth has made his contribution to the fund from which his pension is to come when he is no longer able to work.” Admitting the force of such a statement, the fact remains that to class a scheme as contributory for which no specific provision is made by the prospective beneficiary, and, furthermore, to which the beneficiary is the smallest contributor from the standpoint of taxation, is an extension of the use of the term beyond its usual bounds.
The law provides in brief that every British subject of 20 years' standing and residence in the United Kingdom who has attained the age of 70 years and is without a yearly income in excess of £31 10s. ($153.29) shall, on application, receive a weekly pension, ranging in amount from 1s. (24 cents) to 5s. ($1.22), according to the value of other income. Certain disqualifications may exist, as the receipt of poor relief (except in certain forms), habitual idleness, detention or maintenance as a lunatic, and the fact of conviction of an offense for which the penalty is imprisonment without the option of a fine. A court convicting a person of 60 years of age or upward under the inebriates act may order his disqualification to receive a pension for a term not exceeding 10 years.
Careful instructions and regulations have been drawn up for the information and guidance of applicants and the administering officials. Under these regulations the disqualification on account of the receipt of poor relief attaches to a husband or father, if poor relief has been given for or on account of a wife, or of a child who is under the age of 16 and is not blind or deaf and dumb; to a widow, if such relief has been given for or on account of any child under 16; and to an unmarried woman, if poor relief has been granted for or on account of any illegitimate child under the age of 16 years. The fact that the wife or child may at the time be living outside of the family makes no difference in this respect, but the grant of relief to a husband solely for his own support does not disqualify the wife if she is otherwise eligible. No repayment of poor relief received, no matter by whom made, will operate to remove the disqualification incurred by its receipt.
The fact that one has been excused from the payment of rates on account of poverty does not amount to a disqualification for the receipt of a pension. The income of a married couple is computed for each individual as if they were single, except that the income of neither will be regarded as being less than one-half the total for the two. Thus, if a man's income is £30 ($146) per year and his wife's is £20 ($97.33), his income will be reckoned at its actual amount, entitling him to a pension of 1s. (24 cents) per week, while the wife's will be rated at £25 ($121.66) and her pension at 3s. (73 cents) per week.
The administration of the law is committed in England and Wales to (a) pension officers, (6) pension committees, and (c) the local government board, which is the central authority and which had already in its hands the administration of the poor law and the unemployed workmen act. Pension committees are local bodies in boroughs or urban districts having a population of 20,000 or above, and in all counties (excluding the area of any such borough or district). This committee is appointed by the council of the borough, district, or county, and may not be less than seven in number nor more than the number of the appointing body. General regulations may be made by the appointing council, or such matters may be left to the committee. This committee may also form subcommittees.
Pension officers are appointed by the Treasury Department, and are usually local excise officers. These officers act for specified stations, several of which are under the control of a supervisor. These supervisors and the officers under them are in turn subject to the board of customs and excise.
An applicant for a pension can procure the necessary forms at any post-office, and it is the duty of the postmaster to render needed assistance in filling them out. The claim is transmitted to a pension officer either directly or by the pension committee for the district, and it is his duty to make personal inquiry and otherwise discover the facts bearing on the claimant's right to a pension and to make recommendations, giving his reasons therefor. This report is forwarded to the pension committee, which fixes a day for consideration, at which time the officer may be present and speak, but not vote. Further information may be demanded, and no claim will be disallowed without giving the claimant an opportunity to be heard, unless a similar claim has been disallowed within the previous four months or the claim shows on its face a failure to comply with the statutory conditions. Notice of the decision made must be sent at once to the local officer and to the claimant.
Appeals from the decisions of the committee may be taken to the local government board. An appeal must be taken within seven days after notice of the decision, and the committee must also be notified of such appeal, whereupon it must forward all documents in its hands, including the claim or question on which the appeal was taken. The board then considers the whole subject, taking such steps as may appear necessary to arrive at a proper conclusion.