Sign The Petition For A Fair PensionPosted on: 14 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
A campaign celebrates 100 years of the state pension but warns the Government must do more to prevent pensioner poverty.
August marks a century of the state pension. Britain's biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), is campaigning during 2008 to demand that today's payment is increased by more than £40 a week for all in retirement.
Back in 1898, a number of individual social reformers, backed by the trade union movement of the day, began a campaign to secure a universal state pension.
A decade later, figures such as Rev Francis Herbert Stead - a non-conformist social worker, Charles Booth - a Victorian philanthropist, Margaret Bondfield a leading trade unionist and Edward Cadbury - a successful businessman, were the leaders of a nationwide campaign that had secured the first ever state pension.
The Old Age Pensions Act was passed on 1st August 1908, and on 1 January 1909 the first state pensions of 5 shillings a week were paid at the post office to men and women on reaching 70 years of age.
Even though the pension was means-tested and 'based on character', it was clearly a tremendous advance in social policy and represented the first time that the state had recognised it had a responsibility to look after those in old age.
In 2008 the State Pension is not means-tested, but means-testing still exists for those who need additional income. It is payable to men and women at 65 in 2024 and rising to 68 by 2044 - so perhaps people will have to wait until age 70 to retire once again by the State Pension's 150th anniversary.
The NPC's campaign to pay tribute to those original pension pioneers includes rallies in the same cities where public meetings were held a 100 years ago - Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London - as well as a national petition and a lobby of parliament. There will be Centenary Rallies on 16th August in Manchester and Bristol.
"We owe the original pension pioneers a great debt of gratitude for securing the very first state pension, that sought to end the threat of the workhouse for millions of older people," says Joe Harris, NPC general secretary.
However a hundred years on the NPC is calling for an increase in today's state pension.
Today's state pension is worth even less in relation to average wages than it was in 1908. 5 shillings a week represented between 20 and 25 per cent of average earnings. The full basic State Pension of £90.70 a week from April 2008 represents around 15 per cent of average earnings.
The government has said it will restore the link between pensions and earnings in 2012, but by that time three million of today's pensioners will have died.
"We still have over two million pensioners living below the poverty line and many more struggle to make ends meet," explains Harris.
In 1891, 1.3 million people were classed as paupers, of which 31 per cent were over 60 years old. One in five of today's 11 million pensioners live below the official poverty line, the vast majority of them women.
Today's state pension is widely regarded as the least adequate in Europe.
The National Insurance Fund currently has a surplus of £38.4 billion, which is forecast to grow to £72 billion by 2012. This money is primarily intended to pay for state pensions, but today’s pensioners are being denied a higher pension because the government is using the money to fund other expenditure.
"We must use this centenary year to put pressure on the government to raise the state pension, for all men and women, above the poverty level of £134 a week and restore its link to earnings as a matter of urgency," says Harris. "We must take up the cause of the pension pioneers and finish what they started by once and for all ending the fear of poverty in old age."
As the average Briton lives longer, more money is necessary to ensure a comfortable retirement. The situation looks likely to become worse for future generations.
Final salary schemes have turned into a thing of the past, and many people have been scared off saving into pensions by mis-selling, the Government's tax raid on funds, and the threat of means-testing.
With the percentage of over 60s in the population rising, the state faces an ever increasing responsibility to prevent pensioner poverty.
To try to ease the situation the Pensions Bill 2007 will require automatic enrolment from 2012 into a qualifying workplace scheme, such as personal accounts, for all workers, between 22 and State Pension age, earning more than £5,035 a year.
What's Your View?
Are you worried about retirement, or already retired and struggling to make ends meet? Do our children face a future of pensioner poverty? What should the Government do? You can share your views by leaving a comment below, or discuss pensions with others in the 50connect forum.
www.pension100.co.uk - the State Pension Centenary website - you can find out more and sign the online petition demanding that the government raise the basic state pension as a matter of urgency to at least £134 a week (official poverty level) for all pensioners and increase it annually in line with earnings or prices (whichever is the greater).
You can sign the petition by visiting www.npcuk.org/pension100 and clicking on 'Please add me to the State Pension Centenary Campaign Supporters list' on the right or email here to add your name. You can also print or order a paper petition at www.npcuk.org/pension100/materials.htm.
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