Benefits…give us this day our daily beer

Over the last few weeks I’ve travelled back to Roman and medieval times to find out more about pension provision in the olde worlde. This third instalment explores how feudal economies looked after their aged.

In land-based feudal economies, monasteries were able to offer what was in effect an index-linked annuity, called a “corrody”.  This entitled beneficiaries to food (and, apparently just as important, ale) together with lodging over their remaining lifetimes in return for a lump sum at the outset. Corrodies could offer basic rations or a more generous lifestyle.

In 1313, Gunvor Olavsdatter bought the luxury version from the bishop of Stavanger in Norway. It provided not just her accommodation, but also the best-quality food and 2.7 litres of beer every day (and more at festivities). Her ‘premium’ for these benefits was the bestowal of land “to a value of 120–130 cows” upon the cathedral.

In 1316, William de Schokerwych paid £60 for a corrody granted by the priory of Worcester in England, which included stabling for a horse, and meat and fish when they were served to the monks.  Although prices often fell as well as rising, the protection against inflation was particularly valuable since prices could spike up when harvests were poor, rising for example by a third in southern England in 1272 and 1291.

Wherever possible, older people continued to work until they became unfit or disabled. Artisans and merchants were generally better placed to do this than laborers. This approach has echoes in modern times as well. The obvious solution to ever rising life expectancy is to extend working lives, the more so since work is now so much less physically burdensome than in earlier times.

New annuity product idea: monthly pay cheque and daily beer…I think we have a winner!

Pamela Hellig