Lloyd George’s Pensions Act and How the Treasury Tries to Make Welfare Take-Up Difficult

One of the things I’ve noticed is that as soon as a government roll out some new form of welfare benefit, there’s almost always an attempt immediately either to block it, or to make sure that spending on it is kept as low as possible, and that as few people as possible take it up. In the case of the Tories, this is part of the whole point of these reforms: they’re too make sure as few people qualify for the benefit as possible, but make it appear as though they’re still somehow giving help to the poor. Hence increased benefit cuts, disguised with verbiage about how benefits are being raised in real terms, or else they’re reforming the system so that its geared towards those who really need it. Or some other such nonsense.

In the case of the Labour party, opposition to increased welfare spending seems almost always to come from the Treasury, which immediately makes a statement about the need to preserve spending limits, and recommends amendments to make sure that expenditure is lower than that actually desired by those who formulated the reform. This has been going on for a very long time, almost as long as welfare benefits were introduced. Lloyd George’s pension reforms of 1908 were similarly criticised and modified by the Treasury.

Asquith, Lloyd-George’s predecessor at the Treasury under Campbell-Bannerman, had promised to introduce non-contributory state pensions in 1906. This was to be 5s a week for people over 70. Married couples would only receive 7s 6d. In 1908 Lloyd George gave into pressure from the backbenches, and removed the discrimination against married couples. However, the Treasury had also succeeded in limiting the take-up of the new benefit, was putting a limit of £7 million on the amount that could be spent on it and moving the age when it could be paid from 65 to 70. (See G.C. Peden, British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher, pp. 20-1). And the Tories have done exactly the same today. A few years ago they raised the retirement age to 70 for men, on the grounds that more of us are living and remaining active to that age. They may well be right, but I doubt that’s the only reason they raised it. It seems to me to be something they’ve wanted to do for over a century, ever since Asquith and Lloyd George brought it in. There are certain things in Tories that really don’t change. Unfortunately.

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