A minister said yesterday that the 263 men and 2,090 women who have passed the hundred- mark owe their longevity partly to Victorian improvements in hygiene and sanitation, achieved through those municipal acts - introduced by Liberal governments - whose numbered points used to be a staple of O-level history.
They should also thank Sir William Beveridge whose report 50 years ago led to the establishment of the Welfare State. Lord Beveridge (as he became) was also a Liberal and the Government that implemented most of his reforms between 1945 and 1950 was Labour.
Ann Widdecombe, junior minister at the Department of Social Security, commenting on the statistics released by her department paid tribute to the role of medical breakthroughs, such as the manufacture of penicillin.
Although Beveridge's brand of politics was far from Tory, his welfare state package was, she added, 'put together under a war-time coalition in which the Conservatives played an important part'. And his idea of a social security system from the cradle to the grave had 'stood the test of time' although it had been adapted by successive governments, she said.
According to the Government's Central Statistical Office Britons live, on average, three decades longer than they did at the turn of the century. At the time of Beveridge's report fewer than 170 men and women had passed the 100 landmark. Now, Ms Widdecombe said, living to the age of 105 - a feat achieved by 117 people - is 'no longer really uncommon'.
The Government argues that it has played its part by continuing to fund the Beveridge-inspired social security system. National insurance spending in 1949/50 was worth about pounds 6.5bn at today's prices while last year's spending was pounds 70bn, the DSS said.
Britain's oldest citizen is Charlotte Hughes of Redcar, who celebrated her 115th birthday on 1 August. She spent her early years in the 'One Nation' Britain of Benjamin Disraeli; now she lives in John Major's 'classless society'. Whether she thinks the nation is any more at ease with itself is another matter.Reuse content