Fifty years ago, Britain’s currency changed overnight. On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.
And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound.
More than 3.4 billion new coins had to be minted for ‘Decimal Day’, with approximately 30 billion of them now in circulation.
All change: On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound
Yet some experts fear we could be living in a cashless society in less than two years – let alone another 50.
Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Decimalisation still has its fierce opponents, even 50 years later.
‘Some people look back on the era of shillings and sixpences with enormous affection, and hold tight to the belief that life was never the same again.’
Here, Money Mail shares 50 facts about Decimal Day and how our lives and finances have changed since…
The day itself
1. February was chosen as it was a quiet time for banks and businesses.
2. Around 340,000 cash registers were converted to calculate purchases made in ‘new money’.
3. The 5p and 10p entered circulation in 1968. They were the same size and value as shillings and florins, so ran alongside them as ‘decimal twins’.
4. The 50p was introduced in 1969, while 1p, 2p, and 1/2p coins came into circulation in 1971.
5. The 1/2p was nicknamed the ‘tiddler’, but was discontinued in 1984.
6. The sixpence wasn’t withdrawn from circulation until 1980.
Adds up: Schoolchildren are taught about the new decimal currency in February 1971
7. The last pre-decimal coin to be pulled from circulation was the florin, which was used alongside the 10p until 1993.
8. Banks closed for four days before the change, so they could prepare and cheques in ‘old money’ could clear.
9. Shops ran dual prices for a while to help customers adjust.
10. After decimalisation, one in ten people felt prices had been converted to make things more expensive.
11. The Government commissioned Max Bygraves to record a song for the occasion: Decimalisation. Its lyrics included: ‘They’ve made it easy for every citizen, cos all we have to do is count from one to ten.’
12. Decimalisation cost industry £128 million and the Government £23.5 million.
A pint of milk cost 5p in 1971 and is 43p now
13. Price rises have averaged 5.6 per cent a year since 1971.
14. A pound then had the buying power of £14.46 today.
15. The highest year-on-year inflation rise in the past 50 years was 24 per cent in 1975 and the lowest was -0.53 per cent in 2009.
16. The Bank of England rate was 7 per cent in 1971 compared with 0.1 per cent today.
17. NS&I paid 7.5 per cent on its Investment Account in 1971. It pays 0.01 per cent to savers today.
18. The bank’s Premium Bond prize rate stood at 4.63 per cent back then. It is now 1 per cent.
19. If you had saved £1,000 in the average savings account for 50 years, you would have £12,198. But after inflation this would be £781.
20. If you had invested £1,000 in a UK tracker fund 50 years ago, it would now be worth £252,204. That’s around £16,156 after inflation.
21. However, if an investor had ploughed the same cash into Unilever shares, their £1,000 would be worth £920,302.68 — £58,953 after inflation.
22. The ONS inflation basket of goods in 1971, which reflects our shopping habits, included ox liver, kippers, dried milk and sherry. Now it tracks the prices of chicken nuggets, gluten-free cereal and vegetable crisps.
23. A pint of milk cost 5p then and is 43p now. A loaf of bread could be bought for 10p, compared with £1.16 today. If both had risen with inflation, they would cost 78p and £1.41 respectively.
24. A pint of beer cost 15p, the equivalent of £2.21 today. The same drink in 2021 would be priced at £3.80.
25. A pack of 20 cigarettes was priced at 27p, but smokers now pay £11.45.
26. Pubs then could legally refuse to serve an unaccompanied woman.
27. Food prices were defined by government statis- ticians as ‘food prices paid by housewives’.
28. The average person spent £2.31 a week on food. This has since risen to £26.12.
British politician Lord Fiske at Harrods on February 14, 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for ‘Decimal Day’
29. The average weekly wage for men was £28. If men’s wages rose with inflation they would be £437 a week today.
30. A woman’s weekly median pay was £14. In 2019 it stood at £528 and £628 for men.
31. Around 53 per cent of women worked in 1971, compared with 72 per cent today.
32. A woman could be sacked for being pregnant in 1971.
33. Working days lost to strikes have fallen from 13.6 million to 273,000 in 2018.
34. Around 51 per cent of households owned their own home in 1971, compared with 63 per cent now.
35. The average house price was £5,632. If prices had risen with inflation, it would stand at £82,920 today, instead of £250,000.
36. The average house price was just over four times the average annual salary. Now it’s closer to nine times that wage.
37. The mortgage rate recommended by the Building Societies Association was 8.5 per cent. It is 1.9 per cent today.
38. Car ownership has risen from 52 per cent of households to 76 per cent.
39. One in ten homes had an outside toilet and 9 per cent didn’t come with a plumbed bath.
40. Average indoor temperatures have climbed from 12 C to 17.5 C.
A still from the public information film ‘Granny Gets The Point’ released by the Central Office of Information
41. In 1971 men married at an average of 27.8 and women at 25.2. Now men marry at 38 and women at 35.7.
42. The average age of a first-time mother has risen from 23.7 to 28.8.
43. The average household had 2.91 people compared with 2.37 in 2019.
44. In total in 1971 17 per cent of households were a single person. This rose to 30 per cent in 2019.
45. A 65-year-old man was expected to live just over 12 years more and women 16. Men are now expected to live almost 19 years more and women 21 years.
46. The basic state pension was £6 a week. It is now £134.25 a week and new pensioners receive the flat rate pension at a maximum of £175.20.
47. Only 2.9 million people were drawing workplace pensions, and most were from the public sector. Figures from 2018 show 10.2 million are today and most are from the private sector.
48. There were 11.1 million people paying into workplace pensions compared with 17.3 million today.
49. The majority of care for the elderly was funded by councils. Now local authorities help to pay for less than half of it.
50. Around 3 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women were widowed. For men this has stayed the same, but for women the figure has fallen to 8 per cent.
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