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AHRC funds research into Thatcher’s pension reforms

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Press release issued: 12 December 2013

The Arts and Humanities Research Council will fund a £700,000 project at the University of Bristol that will research a key moment in the historical development of Britain’s system of providing retirement income and in the development of its twenty-first century pensions crisis: the pension reforms pushed through by the Thatcher governments in the 1980s.

The three-year project will explore the roots, implementation, and consequences of the Thatcher governments’ reforms, and reveal the ways in which they contributed to Britain's twenty-first century 'pensions crisis'.  

It will mine a rich seam of hitherto unexplored records and data: a combination of newly released archival material available as a result of the government's decision to move from a 30-year to a 20-year rule for record release backed up by additional freedom of information requests, oral history interviews, 'witness seminars', and a rich array of other primary sources.

The project will be led by Dr Hugh Pemberton from Bristol’s Department of Historical Studies in the School of Humanities with Professor Roger Middleton as co-investigator along with a post-doctoral research assistant and doctoral researcher.

Dr Pemberton said: “This award will allow the research team to study a crucial but poorly understood moment in the history of the British pensions system.  By using a wide range of information not yet publicly available the project will give us new insights into the roots of one of the most pressing public policy problems of our age.  We cannot really solve the pensions crisis unless we better understand what caused it and this project is designed to help address that problem. ”

The study entitled 'The Thatcher pension reforms and their consequences' will run for three years from August 2014.

Dr Pemberton is currently on secondment to the Cabinet Office, working on an official history related to the John Major administration.  He was formerly a business analyst in the life and pensions industry and has published on the history of Britain’s system of pension provision, both public and private.

Professor Middleton is a leading economic historian of Britain, an Academician of the Social Sciences, and an expert on the relationship between government and the market economy.  He is a contributor to the new Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain (to be published in 2014), the author of five books, and has published widely in economic history, history and economics journals.

About the AHRC

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects in the arts and humanities.  This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners.  The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.