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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Book review: 100 Years of State Pension

This timely tome celebrates the actual milestone of 1 January 1909, with the associated inevitable post office queues forming on the starting day. The initial pension was a means-tested state support, and this excellent book charts the conflicting tensions over the century between those advocating reward for thrift and those supporting relief from poverty.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Conservatives seemed to lean towards the State’s role being in means-tested poverty relief, whereas today the roles may be reversed, with siren voices warning Labour of the dangers for incentives to private provision if means-tested entitlement is likely to become the norm. Generally, the book takes a dispassionate look at policies of all parties, although it is difficult to leave entirely behind the current rhetoric, such as the assertion that we are currently “seeing a shift from State to private provision”. An idea it may be but I suggest the evidence currently does not support such a conclusion.

I have long wished for a book that told the tale of pension provision in the UK from, as it were, the 1908 cradle to the 21st century grave. This is that book. Drawing on a wealth of experience the four authors collect together virtually anything you want to know and set it in its socio-political context. The sub-title of the book ‘Learning from the Past’ comes through page after page when the consequences of actions proposed or rejected in the past are discussed with contemporary comments. For example, a writer from the 1980s warns that “ideological objectives... will create problems for a future generation of the retired”. Plus ca change.

This book, wisely sponsored by the Actuarial Profession, should grace the shelf of everyone interested in State pensions policy.