Into the workhouse?
There was no state old-age
pension in 1901. Those who could no longer work and had no
other income often faced a stark choice between destitution
and the workhouse.
The 1901 Census Report recorded 262,175 retired
people, of whom only 25,567 were pensioners (i.e. receiving
work-related pensions) with a further 93,381 living on their
own means. On the night of the census, 208,650 people were
resident in the workhouses of England and Wales - 120,285
men and 88,365 women. Most of these were aged 85 and over.
According to the Census Report, about a quarter of retired
men and half of retired women over 45 actually lived in workhouses
or asylums. Overall, 9% of men and 16% of women over the age
of 65 were receiving outdoor poor relief payments while 5%
of men and 2% of women obtained indoor relief in an institution.
Pensions and the Poor Law
The rising costs of poor relief alarmed some commentators.
The Times complained that the Poor Law was turning
into 'a kind of general old age pension scheme' and argued
that this was partly due to the Local Government Board's 'urging
Guardians [who administered the Poor Law] to make things as
comfortable as possible for the aged and infirm'. Conditions
were improving in at least some institutions. In Holborn workhouse
in central London, where allowances of tea, tobacco and sugar
had been granted, beds were separated by curtains, inmates
were allowed to have their own lockers and an extra day room
had been introduced. Elderly married couples were no longer
split up between male and female wards. The Times,
however, disapproved of such changes, claiming that it unfairly
benefited the very poor, to the detriment of 'the poorer but
self-respecting classes who insist on preserving their own