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A ‘most imperial’ contribution: New Zealand and the old age pensions debate in Britain, 1898–1912*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2014

Edmund Rogers*


The extent of imperial influences upon nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British life, including in the development of social policy, has attracted significant scholarly interest in the past decade. The bearing of New Zealand's 1898 Old-Age Pensions Act upon the British debate over elderly poverty exemplifies the contested transfer of social policy ideas from settler colony to ‘Mother Country’. Reformers in Britain hailed a model non-contributory pension system with an imperial pedigree. However, the widely acknowledged distinction between ‘old’ countries such as Britain, and ‘new’ countries of English-speaking settlement, characterized the New Zealand example's reception. While progressives identified the colony as a ‘clean slate’ lacking the obstructive historical inheritance of the Poor Law, critics of state-funded pensions warned against drawing policy-making lessons from New Zealand. Yet when a reformist Liberal government introduced an Old Age Pensions Bill in 1908, it used Britain's age to justify the legislation's relative conservatism.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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The author acknowledges the generosity of the Economic and Social Research Council for the doctoral award that made this article, and the thesis from which it derives, possible. He also thanks the organizers of the Social Policy Across Borders conference, his fellow conference participants, and the editors and anonymous readers at the Journal of Global History for their encouraging comments and constructive feedback.


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