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the principle of pensions is a sound and practicable one. over by a Cabinet Minister who had previously denounced pensions in anv'shape or form, the Committee has formulated a scheme more progressive than any official declaration has hitherto been. The following heads constitute the main points of the project : (1) That a pension authority in each Union be established, to
consist of a statutory committee, appointed by, but independent of, the Guardians, with representatives
from other local governing bodies. (2) That the cost of the pensions be borne by the Union,
but a contribution of one half the estimated cost be
made on the basis of population from Imperial sources. (3) That the pensions be 5s. to 75. a week, paid through the
Post Office. The statutory committee may fix the amount, within these limits, in accordance with the
varying cost of living in different places. (4) That they be granted for three years and be renewable. (5) That the persons eligible be British subjects, men or
women, over sixty-five years of age, who for the previous twenty years have not been sentenced for serious crime, or received habitual poor relief (other than medical relief), provided that the applicant has not an income of more than 10s. a week, and has in the past shown reasonable providence, especially by joining a
benefit society. The recognition in this scheme of the principle of pensions as a legitimate claim is a satisfactory one, though there are numerous details open to criticism. The selection of Guardians as indirectly the administrative authority is objectionable for reasons given later. The proposed division of expense between the State and the Union is an unfair one, and would severely tax the resources of rural districts, on account of the undue proportion of aged residents in country villages. It may be further urged that provision for old age should be a national rather than a local obligation. The test of " reasonable providence " is unjust in theory, for the social function of providing for old age should be kept quite distinct from the social function of punishing or restraining dissolute idleness and drunkenness. It is doubtful, however, if in practice the test could be applied, except it be insisted that claimants should be members of benefit societies. To this reservation great opposition would be made.
The Committee's proposals represent, probably, the minimum concessions that the Government is prepared to support, and, by pressure and agitation, considerable alterations could be secured in the scheme.
A Practical Alternative. The following heads of an alternative scheme are submitted as forming the basis of a practical measure :
(1) That the County Councils be the statutory authority for
the administration of the scheme. (2) That the County Councils be authorized to appoint a
statutory committee, and such sub-committees as may
appear necessary for dealing with the scheme. (3) That age be the sole test of an applicants' qualification. (4) That each applicant should forward a birth certificate, or
other proof of age, accompanied by verification from two responsible householders to the offices instituted
by the County Council. (5) That the pension be paid by the Councils through the
medium of the Post Office. (6) That the age-qualification be sixty-five, and that the
pension be one of 75. per week for town residents, and
5s. per week for rural residents. (7) That the total amount of the pensions be paid by the
Treasury, and the cost of administration be thrown on
the county rate. There is weight in much that has been urged in support of the choice of the Guardians as the pension authority, especially in the fact that they possess the necessary machinery and the useful local knowledge. But it is important that the present stigma attached to Poor Law relief should be removed by every possible means from the new Old Age Pensions. The stigma is a sentimental one, but it is so deeply rooted in the feelings of the working class that the only way of avoiding it appears to be the constitution of a distinct authority for the administration of the scheme.
Meanwhile, the Poor Law would of course remain ; so that if any individual pensioner should prove incapable of using his pension otherwise than as a means of securing a day's drunkenness as a prelude to six days in the workhouse or prison, steps might be taken for its better administration by the Guardians. And as the pension is hardly likely to be liberal at the outset of the scheme, there need be no relaxation in the spreading of such Poor Law work on behali of the aged poor as that described in Fabian Tract No. 54, on the Humanizing of the Poor Law, especially in the section on cottage homes. Those pensioners who were unable to shift for themselves could thus take refuge with the Guardians whilst feeling that they were contributing the amount of their pension to their own support.
Cost. It is impossible to form any reliable estimate of the cost of a scheme of pensions. The possible number of claimants is an unknown one. But the question is not serious, for if the Government is prepared to consider a plan involving an annual expenditure of at least five or six millions, the extra cost necessary to make the scheme effective will not be overwhelming. In any case, the advantages of securing a certainty of food and clothing to our aged people are
worth an expenditure of considerably less than one-half of what we now pay for our army and navy. Our soldiers and sailors are entitled to receive at the end of a certain number of years a pension, determined by the length of their service. A nation whose annual income is £1,700,000,000* can afford to pension its fighters. Why does it think that it can afford not to pension its workers ?
SENTIMENTAL OBJECTIONS. It is sometimes said, even still, that old age pensions a grandmotherly and would sap the independence of the working class. How much independence is to be found in 400,000 men and women seeking relief from the Poor Law it is not easy to calculate ; nor can there be much self-respect and conscious dignity in the man who appears weekly before the lodge of his Friendly Society or branch of his Trade Union to beg for a continuation of their distress grant. Independence will be fostered rather than diminished by the removal of economic disabilities that now cripple a workman during his active life, and make the thought of his last years one of harassing dread.
Neither can any doctrinaire objection prevail now-a-days to the State intervening where voluntary methods have failed. The State is but the instrument by which the collective will shapes the destinies of the nation. Democracy governs the State ; and effective democracy in this country is marshalled in three great movements, the Co-operative Societies, the Trade Unions and the Friendly Societies. The pressure of disadvantageous economic conditions is visible to and felt by the members of these movements. Their entire life is fettered, haunted, and spoilt by it. It is they who have to suffer the horrors of indigent old age: it is they who have tried, by voluntary methods through their organizations, to remove them. But they have failed. Their failure has proved that the task is too great for individual effort to accomplish, and that through the State alone is it possible to effect a permanent solution of the problem.
• Tract 5, “Facts for Socialists,” edition 1899.
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