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The Danish Connection: A Note on the Making of British Old Age Pensions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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In the continuous discussion of how and how much Lloyd George was influenced by Germany in formulating Old Age Pensions and National Insurance, attention seems to have been almost wholly diverted from the degree to which the Danish example was discussed, recommended and clearly present in the consciousness of those who made the British Old Age Pension Act of 1908. There is no discussion of the issue in the standard work on the subject, Bentley B. Gilbert's The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain, (London, 1966) nor even any mention of “Denmark” in the index. The subject is likewise missing from Francis H. Stead's How Old Age Pensions Came to Be, (London [? 1910]), which Gilbert calls “indispensible.” Patricia Mary Williams barely mentions the subject in her detailed dissertation, “The Development of Old Age Pension Policy in Great Britain, 1878-1925” (University of London, 1970), and does not even do that much in the book she wrote under the name Pat Thane, Foundations of the Welfare State (Essex, 1982) nor in the chapter on old age pensions in the book she edited, Origins of British Social Policy (London, 1978). Hugh Heclo in Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden (New Haven, 1974) mentions (p. 167) that the proposals of the commission in 1899 “resembled” the Danish system, but Heclo does not say how or why, and then never mentions the subject again. John Grigg, in his biography of Lloyd George is concerned with the man more than the issue, and does not analyze the source of the ideas behind the old age pension bill of 1908 in his Lloyd George, The People's Champion (Berkeley, 1978).

Notes and Documents
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1985

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1 Hennock, E.P., “The Origins of British National Insurance and the German Precedent,” in Momsen, W. J., ed. The Emergence of the Welfare State in Britain and Germany, 1850-1950 (London, 1981), pp. 84106.Google Scholar

2 LGB Report, 18961897, pp. 79, and 1900-01, pp. 18-19Google ScholarPubMed. The first Bill for Old Age Pensions ever introduced into the House of Commons was explicitly based on the Danish example. There was a brief debate at first reading, the only one the Bill received. H. of C. Debates, 4th ser., vol. 22, pp. 13461349, April 4, 1894.Google Scholar

3 Parliamentary Papers, 1895 (C. 7684), vol. 14, p. 1Google Scholar; 1898 (C. 8911), vol. 45, p. 465; 1899 (296), vol. 8.

4 For Treasury disapproval, see Williams, Patricia Mary, “The Development of Old Age Pensions Policy in Great Britain, 1878-1925.” (Ph.D. Diss., University of London, 1970), pp. 136137Google Scholar. Henry Chaplin was the leading parliamentary spokesman against the non-contributory pensions proposed by Lloyd George. Whether he had had reservations about the report of his own Commission in 1899, or he had changed his mind is unclear. H. of C. Debates, 4th ser., vol. 190, pp. 591611, June 15, 1908.Google Scholar

5 Sellers, , Foreign Solutions of Poor Law Problems (London, 1900)Google Scholar; idem, The Danish Poor Relief System: an Example for England (London, 1904). Some of Sellers', articles are “Danish and Russian Old Age Homes, The Nineteenth Century 52 (October, 1902): 643645Google Scholar; Old Age Homes in Denmark,” Contemporary Review 78 (September, 1900): 430441Google Scholar; Foreign Remedies of English Poor Law Defects,” Century 62 (November, 1907): 770786Google Scholar. Her testimony before the Select Committee on the Aged Pensioners Bill is in Parliamentary Papers, 1903 (C.276), vol. 5, see especially page 7Google Scholar. There is a Danish expression for the “unworthy poor” (uvaerdige traengende) with about the same meaning as the English. In neither language, however, is it synonymous with “pauper.” It is unclear to me whether or how well Sellers knew Danish.

6 PRO. Cab 37/68, item 81, page 5.

7 See vol. 38 (May 9, 1908): 1892.

8 Asquith, : H. of C. Debates, 4th ser., vol. 188, May 7, 1908, p. 464Google Scholar, and vol. 189, June 16, p. 828. Haldane: ibid., vol. 190, June 15, p. 668. The British act of 1908 was actually different in a number of important respects from the Danish Law of April 15, 1891, “Alderdomsunderstfttolse til VaerdigeTraengende undenfor Fattigvaesnet.” Among other differences, the Danish law contained no income limits, as did the British, no set amount for the pension, as did the British. The Danish old age pension law left decisions on whether and how much the pension should be in the hands of local authorities.