Today is the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the state pension in the UK. Prior to the Old Age Pension Act 1908 those who became too frail to work depended on charity to survive, and many ended up in the work house, which was little better than a prison.
On 13 December 1898 Rev Francis Herbert Stead, a Christian Socialist from Tyneside, convened a meeting in the Browning Hall, Southwark at which Charles Booth, the Victorian social reformer and anti-poverty campaigner was the main speaker. This was to be an historic occasion which initiated a nationwide campaign to end the scandal of workhouses and change the way the State cared for older people.
Once again, in the history of Great Britain and Ireland, people of faith were in the vanguard of social change and concern for the widow, the orphan, the sick and the old.
Old Victorian values still had a place though and you could be denied a pension, or it could be taken for you if you had a prison record, or spent too much of your pension on alcohol.
So things are so much better today then.
Back in 1908, the pension was 5 shillings. Today it’s around £90.
All this at a time BP, the oil giant announced, without a hint of embarrassment, that they had already made £6.75 BILLION profit so far this year. That’s equivalent to making £555 a second for the last 3 months. The rest of the oil companies are expected to announce something similar in the coming days.
And yesterday British Gas, one of the largest energy suppliers in Britain, announced a 35% INCREASE in gas prices. the second price rise in 7 months after their 15% rise in January. Understandable I suppose, in order to protect the £1bn profit they made in the first 6 months of the year. Meanwhile, all round increases in energy prices will mean thousands more families and individuals of will fall into fuel poverty this winter, many of whom will be older people. (Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10% of income on fuel bills.)
The government estimates that 2.5m households are in fuel poverty but watchdog bodies estimate it could be more than 4m.
If ever there was a time for people of faith to lead new movements for social reform this is it.
Psalm 140:12 says;
I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.
In the meantime, the Anglican movement tears itself apart over sexual orientation.