Press release

Pensioners change the face of Britain over the Queen’s reign

Since The Queen ascended the throne 60 years ago, the structure of British society has shifted. The number of pensioners has doubled.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Since The Queen ascended the throne 60 years ago, the structure of British society has shifted. The number of pensioners has doubled. 44 times as many Britons are reaching age 100. And we are living nearly a decade longer.

There are 5.6 million more pensioners today than in 1952, rising from 6.8 million to 12.4 million. The percentage of pensioners in the population has increased by six per cent from 14 per cent in 1952.

And there are around 13,120 more centenarians, an increase on 300 in 1952. The Queen has sent around 110,000 telegrams and messages to centenarians during her reign.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb said:

In the past 60 years we have seen man land on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the Internet and digital technology.  Pensioners now make up 20 per cent of the population and make a huge contribution to society.

Yet the state pension age has not moved on and the state pension system has trapped millions of people in its means-testing maw for decades, discouraging people from saving and outfoxing any attempt to fix it until now.

We will bring forward the state pension age to 67 by 2028 and a bring in a simple single-tier pension so people will know for the first time what their state pension will be and can save more for a comfortable retirement on top.

A boy born in 1952 was expected to live to 78 and a girl to 83. A boy born in 2012 is expected to live to 91 and a girl to 94.

And while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh continue their busy schedule of Royal engagements, very few people are reported as employed at aged 86 or over. Around 350,000 women aged 65 or over are in work today and around 540,000 men aged 65 or over.

In 1952 there were around 1.5 per cent of women aged 65 or over in the workforce. Today that has increased to 6.5 per cent.

Under five million pensioners claimed a state pension in 1952 compared to around 11.5 million today, with a further million living overseas. The state pension was £1 12s a week and you claimed your pension with your Old Age Pension Book at the Post Office.

The system assumed that a married woman was likely to be dependent on her husband and there was no cover for time taken out of work to look after children or care for someone.

The state pension is currently £107.45 a week, an increase of £5.30 since last year and the largest cash rise in history.   Most women and men now get a pension in their own right and can get National Insurance credits for childcare or caring for a sick or disabled person. And most people get their pension paid directly into an account and can choose to be paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

Notes to Editors

  1. In 1952 life expectancy for a 65 year old woman was 15.4 years, and 12 years for a 65 year old man.  In 2012 life expectancy is 23.9 years for a 65 year old woman, and 21.3 years for a 65 year old man. A baby boy born in 1952 was expected to live to age 78 and a baby girl to age 83.  In 2012 a baby boy is expected to live to 91 and a baby girl to 94.   Source for life expectancy figures: Office for National Statistics: Historic and Projected Mortality Data (1951 to 2060) from the UK Life Tables, 2010-based.  Link for life expectancy figures:
  2. In 1952 there were around 300 centenarians and today there are around 13,420 (England and Wales). ONS: Population Trends Summer 1999 ‘The demography of centenarians in England and Wales and ONS: population projections 2010 based.
  3. The Queen announced that a new flat-rate state pension would be introduced in her speech to Parliament on 9 May when she set out the government’s legislative plans for the next year. The Queen also announced that The Pensions Bill would bring forward the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
  4. The State Pension age was set at 65 in 1926 when there were nine people of working age for every pensioner.  There are now three people of working age for every pensioner, and that is set to fall to nearer two by the end of this century.  Women’s state pension age is rising to 65 by 2018. State Pension age is rising to 66 for men and women by April 2020.  We will bring forward a State pension age of 67 by 2028. Later this year we will publish further proposals for a more automatic link between longer lives and the state pension age.
  5. The first state pension in Britain was introduced in 1908 with the Old Age Pension Act. The most people could get was 5 shillings (25p) for a single man or woman, and 7 shillings and 7d (38p) for a married man and it was a means-tested non-contributory benefit. Pension age was set as 70 years old for both men and women. The first pensions were paid on 1 January 1909.

To qualify you had to:

  • be aged 70 years old or over
  • have earnings of less than £21 -10s a year and total means of less than £31-10s a year
  • have been a UK subject and lived in the country continuously for at least 20 years and, in the case of women, not be married to an ‘alien’
  • be of ‘good character.’

And not:

  • be in receipt of poor relief
  • have been released from prison in the previous 10 years
  • have been convicted of drunkenness
  • have been found guilty of habitual failure to work according to one’s ability
  • be confined in an asylum as a lunatic.
Published 29 May 2012