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"In the long run we shall all be dead": Politics and pensions in postwar Britain

Research output: ResearchConference contribution

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhy has it all gone wrong? The past, present and future of British pensions, British Academy
StatePublished - 2005


At the end of 2004 the Pension Commission bluntly concluded that ‘The UK has the most complex pension system in the world’ and noted that this was the product of history. This paper focuses on the development of British pensions in the two decades after the publication of the Beveridge report in 1942, but also considers later changes in the subsequent four decades. It argues that short-term political horizons coupled with pension contracts (explicit or implicit) between the recipients and the providers of pensions (whether the state, employer, or financial sector) meant that the series of major ‘reforms’ that took place after 1946 was achieved by adding a new element to the overall system at every ‘reform’. The history of British pensions therefore indicates that change is clearly possible. Nevertheless, British pensions demonstrated a systemic tendency to increasing complexity that suggests further reform will be at the price of further complexity. If the growth in complexity is to be contained this reform needs to endure, and this suggests a powerful need for forging a cross party consensus and building a flexible policy for the long-term.

Additional information

Name and Venue of Event: British Academy, London Conference Organiser: H. Pemberton; Pat Thane; Noel Whiteside


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