Retirement Gifts From Be Personal
The idea of retiring from work is a relatively new concept. The idea of leaving work after reaching a certain age was just not practical in the days of subsistence farming, when life expectancy was twenty-six to forty years of age. Not many people reached an age where physical difficulties affected their ability to work and when people were too old or infirm they would be supported by members of their family. A notable exception, which began in Roman times, was the provision of a pension to those who had completed military service. This practice was continued down the centuries and must have made a significant difference to those in receipt of the money.
Disabled seamen were granted a pension from the Chatham Chest from 1590 and in 1672 an organised pension scheme was established for Royal Navy Officers. The first record of a non-military pension is from 1684, when a civil servant by the name of Martin Horsham, who had worked at the port of London was granted one. The idea began to catch on and in 1707 the Oxford University printers began one of the first Friendly Societies for their benefit.
Friendly Societies were groups of workers forming mutual societies through which they could save for funeral costs and also put money aside for old age, illness or times of unemployment. They began to spring up all over the country for groups of workers who earned enough to put some money away. 1739 saw the Bank of England granting a pension and so a pattern emerges of the wealthier in society making provision for their old age.
We need to follow the examples set abroad to see how universal pensions came into being. In 1883 Otto Von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany, announced that everyone over the age of sixty-five would be forced to retire and a pension would be paid to them. This was actually a manoeuver against Marxists who were gaining power, but prior to this announcement, in 1881, Emperor William I, at Bismarck’s bidding, had introduced the proposal for retirement in a letter to the Reichstag. In the letter he suggested that, ‘…those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state’. Bismarck was labelled a socialist for introducing these government programmes, but his response was, ‘Call it socialism or whatever you like. It is the same to me.’
Under the German scheme contributory pension and disability benefits were provided. Every worker had to join the scheme and contributions were taken from them, their employers and the government. This was a model that was copied widely.
After the Industrial Revolution it became clear that older workers were less productive than their younger counterparts. They worked more slowly and so had an affect upon assembly lines, slowing down productivity. The also took more sick days and were taking the place of younger, more profitable men who had families to support. By the Great Depression of the 1930s the situation was more desperate with unemployment at high levels. Many saw retirement as a necessary adjustment in the economy, but it was often resisted by older employees.
In the United States of America by the middle of the Nineteenth Century some public employees such as teachers, the police and firemen were provided with public pensions and in 1875 the American Express company began to offer private pensions. By the 1920s there were a number of the larger industries in America offering pensions, such as the railways, oil and banking.
It is important to remember that in these early years there were still a great number of workers to each pensioner, making the schemes affordable. For example, in 1901, the ratio was about ten to one. However, government pension schemes were not bound by such factors, taking the money for pensions from all revenues. It was in 1908 that the Old Age Pensions Act introduced a non-contributory scheme in the United Kingdom. Those over the age of seventy would receive a sum to the value of between 10p and 25p a week, equivalent to about £11.40 - £28.50 in 2018. Life expectancy at the time was fifty years of age for men and fifty-three for women, so not many lived long enough to qualify for this state pension. People who had an annual income of more than £31.50, £2,075 in today’s value, were excluded from the scheme, presumably because the government thought they could afford to make their own provisions for old age.
The eminent Canadian physician, William Osler declared in 1905 that a man’s best work was done before he reached the age of forty and that by the age of sixty he should retire. He said that the years between twenty-five and forty were the ‘fifteen golden years of plenty’ when workers were at their most productive. Workers aged from forty to sixty could be tolerated because they were then ‘merely uncreative’ but after sixty they should be put out to pasture because they were useless.
The first governmental contributory scheme in the United Kingdom was introduced in 1925 with the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act. In the United States of America, it was in 1935 that a plan was put forward in California for compulsory retirement at the age of sixty. President Roosevelt introduced the Social Security Act making employees pay for their own retirement. However, many did not like the idea of retiring and in 1951, when the Coming Company set up a meeting to discuss how to make retirement more popular, it was still a problem to get people to give up work. Life expectancy increased throughout the Twentieth Century, reaching seventy-nine for men and eighty-three for women by 1981, making contributory schemes essential. The government could no longer afford to fund pensions from receipts.
Most employees in the Twentieth Century would make contributions to both the state and their employer’s pension schemes. However, there have been scandals with privately run funds. In 1992 it emerged that Robert Maxwell had used about £460 million from his Mirror Group’s pension fund in order to finance business deals. The government response was the Pensions Act of 1995 which set out regulations and compensation schemes.
Whilst most of the popular Final Salary pension schemes run by both the public and private sectors have now closed because the payments were too high to be sustainable with people living much longer, there are still private and governmental savings schemes to provide old age pensions. There are also may perks to be had for reaching retirement age, such as cheap rail tickets, bus passes, the winter fuel allowance and free television licences for the over seventy-fives.
With people being healthier in old age, it is becoming increasingly common for them to continue working past the official retirement age. Not all continue in their former employment and many companies set out to recruit these senior members of society since they are regarded as reliable employees. Some settle for a semi-retirement, working reduced hours but still bringing in an income whilst having more time for hobbies and pastimes.
When people retired from work it was traditional to present them with a clock or gold watch. This was because many people would have spent their entire working life with one company, sometimes thirty or forty years. The actual idea of a clock or watch came from Pepsi Co. who would tell retirees, ‘You gave us your time, now we are giving you ours’. This practice became outdated with more women working until retirement age and also with the cost of gold watches rising. Indeed, even Pepsi Co. downgraded to gold-plated watches. Today, with people moving from company to company much more often, retirement gifts are more likely to suit the individual and his or her plans for how they are going to spend their time when they no longer have to turn up for work.
If solid gold watches are out of the question, then why not a watch that has been personalised to mark the occasion. This gift will be in keeping with the tradition of a retirement watch, but made more special by bearing the name of and significant date for the recipient. Something to enjoy in the relaxed days ahead would be a special bottle of whisky or wine, personalised to remember the retirement. Some bottles of spirits come with special chocolates too, to share the enjoyment. Jewellery or a vase, both engraved with the special details of the event will make welcome gifts for female employees, or perhaps a bone china plate to put on display.