The cheapskate botched and useless investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police that led to no timely prosecution of Greville Janner

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry keeps private more detailed report to protect victims

Another coruscating report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has condemned Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire County Council for their handling of allegations from survivors of abuse.

Following damning reports by the inquiry into Rochdale, the London borough of Lambeth, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, a picture is now emerging across many parts of England of failures among the police, social services and the churches to tackle this problem with thousands of survivors being let down by authorities that should have protected them.

The national press and the BBC have rightly highlighted the failures of the police and the council to adequately investigate claims by survivors yet again in cases of historic child sexual abuse.

However it is in the mind blowing detail of the report that exposes how incompetent the police and council were in handling the investigations. It reveals a picture of quarrelling under resourced police officers, hiding of key evidence, and a difference of approach to investigations into a VIP figure, Lord Janner, from other less prominent people.

Police incompetence

The report shows there were two separate police investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police – one in 2000 Operation Magnolia – into abuse at two children’s homes and the second -Operation Dauntless in 2005 – into specific complaints against Greville Janner. The first also involved Lord Janner though it was mainly directed at suspected staff in the homes.

The initial budget for the first operation was just £10,000- and it kept being paused as investigating officers were put on other police work including murders.

The inquiry reports: “Detective Constable (DC) Nigel Baraclough, one of the team of officers involved in Operation Magnolia, told us that the Operation was a low-priority investigation, allocated to the least experienced SIO[senior investigating officer]and Deputy SIO, and was poorly staffed. The Operation was classed as a Category C investigation, the lowest of three gradings for a major investigation.”

During the investigation two residents alleged they had been sexually assaulted by Lord Janner which would normally trigger a reference to the assistant chief constable. This does not appear to be have been done and one officer thought the allegations were “lies”. Lord Janner was never interviewed. Nor were the two cases ever referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The rest of the allegations against staff of physical or sexual abuse led to no prosecutions by the CPS. The statements given by the two children against Lord Janner were locked away in a drawer at Market Harborough Police Station.

They only resurfaced after fresh allegations were made against Lord Janner in 2005 when Operation Dauntless was launched. Even then no attempt was made to reinvestigate them or even find out whether the children were still alive. Officers argued whether Lord Janner should be arrested and his home searched.

“Staggering, bewildering and disappointing” a policeman’s verdict

Detective Sergeant Swift-Rollinson told the inquiry it was “incredible that an individual such as Lord Janner should be treated any differently by not interviewing him, not arresting and searching” his properties. He stated that the fact that Lord Janner “was not allowed the opportunity to dispel those allegations or provide a reasonable account is staggering, bewildering and disappointing”.

This time the CPS was informed but before any further investigations took place. The CPS advised not to interview Lord Janner or pursue this any further. The inquiry describes the view as complacent. The case was wound down despite protests from some officers.

It was not until 2012 when Leicestershire Police launched a further investigation, Project Enamel, that Lord Janner was finally charged when 33 former children came forward. By then Lord Janner was not well and died before any trial could take place.

This has left a situation where all the complainants have no resolution to what happened to them and Lord Janner’s family are left denying the charges but cannot challenge them in court. Daniel Janner, his son, has however been wrong in trying to stop the inquiry investigating the circumstances as this report will remain a permanent guide on how not to investigate child sexual abuse cases. Without it other police forces could be tempted yet again to dismiss such allegations.

One issue the inquiry has decided I find rather difficult. This comes from the decision to produce two reports – an expurgated report-now published – and a much longer and more detailed unexpurgated report. The inquiry’s explanation is that they have to protect the anonymity of those who allege were sexually abused for life. They did not answer my questions on whether the survivors will see the report, whether they also took this decision to prevent any litigation from Lord Janner’s family who have been opposed to the inquiry and would find the details of the allegations pretty damning.

A spokesman told me: “In order to protect the identity of complainants, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, a part of the public hearing for this investigation was held in closed session, reflecting the necessity for a restricted report.  The Inquiry took steps to ensure that as much evidence was heard in public as possible, and the same approach was taken in regard to the unrestricted report. Whilst the restricted report cannot be publicly published due to anonymity issues, it will still be used by the Chair and Panel to inform findings and any recommendations they choose to make in the Final Report. ”

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry

Chair to the Inquiry Professor Alexis Jay said:“Despite numerous serious allegations against the late Lord Janner, police and prosecutors appeared reluctant to fully investigate the claims against him. On multiple occasions police put too little emphasis on looking for supporting evidence and shut down investigations without pursuing all outstanding enquiries.”

“It was a similar picture for Leicestershire County Council, which had a sorry record of failures in relation to the sexual abuse of children in its care over several decades. A number of council staff had concerns about Lord Janner’s association with a particular child in residential care, and further enquiries should have been carried out.”

“This investigation has brought up themes we are now extremely familiar with, such as deference to powerful individuals, the barriers to reporting faced by children and the need for institutions to have clear policies and procedures setting out how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, regardless of the prominence of the alleged abuser.”

Previous Blogs https://davidhencke.com/2017/04/11/independent-child-sexual-abuse-inquiry-will-investigate-the-late-greville-janner-and-whether-there-was-a-cover-up/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/10/16/why-the-children-of-greville-janner-believe-he-must-be-innocent-of-33-child-sex-abuse-allegations/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/11/abuse-of-trust-a-horrible-reminder-of-a-child-sex-scandal-as-the-jay-inquiry-prepares-to-examine-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2014/12/13/police-re-open-child-sex-abuse-investigation-into-labour-peer-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/06/daniel-janner-is-wrong-to-say-all-allegations-of-child-sex-abuse-against-his-father-must-be-fabricated/

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Death is a great leveller: Taliban agree to mass vaccination against polio and a campaign against Covid 19

Women to be giving jabs in a frontline role

The Taliban’s ideological stance against women having an equal role with men has had to take a back seat in the face of a potential major health crisis in the country. For once the extremist leaders are finding out they can’t fight disease without the participation of women.

In what must be a welcome breakthrough following negotiations between the World Health Organisation and the Taliban the leaders have agreed to a country wide vaccination programme against polio and for a new campaign to fight Covid 19 and measles.

Failure to do so would have opened the country -already reeling from the loss of Western and humanitarian aid – to the spread of life threatening diseases which have all but disappeared in more advanced countries. The prospect of widespread deaths from unchecked diseases as well as growing hunger and poverty has focused minds.

The new deal was revealed in an announcement from the World Health Organisation today.

The vaccination campaign, which begins on November 8, will be the first in over three years to reach all children in Afghanistan, including more than 3.3 million children in some parts of the country who have previously remained inaccessible to vaccination campaigns.  A second nationwide polio vaccination campaign has also been agreed and will be synchronised with Pakistan’s own polio campaign planned in December.

WHO welcomes programme

“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.  “We know that multiple doses of oral polio vaccine offer the best protection, so we are pleased to see that there is another campaign planned before the end of this year.  Sustained access to all children is essential to end polio for good.  This must remain a top priority,” he said.

So far there has been only one case of polio this year under the previous government but with no vaccination programme a resurgence of the disease was likely. Instead now it could be eradicated.

“This is not only a win for Afghanistan but also a win for the region as it opens a real path to achieve wild poliovirus eradication,” said Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.  “The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to proceed demonstrates a joint commitment to maintain the health system and restart essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases,” he said.

The overall health system in Afghanistan remains vulnerable.  To mitigate against the risk of a rise in diseases and deaths, all parties have agreed on the need to immediately start measles and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.  This will be complemented with the support of the polio eradication programme and with outreach activities that will urgently begin to deliver other life-saving vaccinations through the national expanded programme for immunization.

The Taliban leadership has expressed their commitment for the inclusion of female frontline workers and for providing security and assuring the safety of all health workers across the country, which is an essential prerequisite for the implementation of polio vaccination campaigns.

WHO and UNICEF call on authorities and community leaders at all levels to respect and uphold the neutrality of health interventions and ensure unhindered access to children now and for future campaigns.

This is probably the one gleam of light in what has been an extremely bad autumn for the people of Afghanistan and a huge setback for women’s rights. The threat of mass deaths from preventable diseases has obviously alarmed the new regime.

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DWP dumps on benefit watchdog and ignores plea for more help for victims of domestic violence

The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.

Ministry turns down plea from social security watchdog

As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.

The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.

The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.

Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”

Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation

But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.

A DWP spokesperson said:

“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”

Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.

It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.

Not one MP or peer spoke up about this

The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.

They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.

Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.

Benefits watchdog keeps mum

I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.

However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.

For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.

So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.

Previous Blog

https://davidhencke.com/2021/10/03/exclusive-half-baked-and-half-hearted-dwps-help-for-women-facing-domestic-abuse-and-violence/

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A Supreme Court verdict on Scottish human rights that could backfire on Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson

Last week the Supreme Court delivered a verdict against Scotland’s government that gave Boris Johnson a victory to stop both Scotland and Wales giving new rights to children, women, disabled people and protecting ethnic minorities from discrimination.

Supreme Court. Pic credit BBC News

The Tories were triumphant that Suella Braverman, QC, the Attorney General, employing the Treasury Devil. Sir James Eadie, to argue successfully that neither Scotland nor Wales could bring forward legislation to implement in full the UN convention on the Rights of the Child nor a European Charter on local self government. The Daily Mail said that it was ” a humiliation” for Nicola Sturgeon and could be used to stop any Scottish referendum. Tories in Scotland accused her of manufacturing a row with the UK by proposing to implement the charter in full.

The decision has implications for three other UN conventions – the Convention on Eliminating All forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw); a UN Convention outlawing racial discrimination and one giving full rights to disabled people effectively saying that even in areas of law already devolved to Scotland and Wales neither Parliament can legislate to implement these rights. The Scottish government was planning to introduce legislation to do this.

The immediate effect will be that Holyrood will have to remove clauses in two bills unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament to take out measures that give extra rights to children or the Queen will refuse Royal Assent to the measures.

Westminster overrides Scotland

The decision basically gives untrammelled rights to the Westminster Parliament to override the Scottish Parliament if it is thought its new law conflicts with lesser rights for children in England.

The issue was argued on constitutional grounds – not on any issues of the rights of any of these groups- who will now be denied these rights purely by the Westminster government saying it is outside the competence of Scotland to legislate in this way.

The judgement was made by five elderly and middle aged male judges and argued equally by a middle aged QC – he is 59 -the same QC who successfully argued before the Court of Appeal that the Department of Work and Pensions had no obligation to bother to tell women born in the 1950s and 1960s that they weren’t going to get their pensions until the age of 66 instead of 60. One is tempted to say ” male, pale and stale” government rules supreme in Westminster- though I may be guilty of ageism.

All male judicial decision

The five judges who unanimously took the decision are

Lord Reed, President, aged 65, a Scottish judge, Baron Reed of Allermuir
Lord Hodge, Deputy President, aged 68, Patrick Stewart Hodge
Lord Lloyd-Jones, aged 69, David Lloyd Jones, President of the Welsh Law Council
Lord Sales, aged 59, Philip James Sales
Lord Stephens, aged 66, Lord Stephens of Creevyloughgare, a Northern Ireland judge.

The full judgement is here. The key phrase is that the changes are outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament under the 1997, Scotland Act which limited the powers of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for certain matters. The judges were careful to say that this was not about the rights of children under the UN Convention only the manner the legislation . This might provide a loophole for the Scottish government.

Nicola Sturgeon – official portrait

Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader and first minister, said in a tweet: ” The current powers of the @ScotParl leaves us unable to full protect children’s rights, even in devolved areas. If our Parliament was independent, no such restriction would apply.

” Anyone thinking this is an abstract argument should reflect that also today, the UK government is taking £20pw from the pockets of the poorest families- making it harder for many parents to provide essential for their children”.

John Swinney, deputy first minister, said: “While we fully respect the court’s judgment and will abide by the ruling, we cannot help but be bitterly disappointed. It makes plain that we are constitutionally prohibited from enacting legislation that the Scottish Parliament unanimously decided was necessary to enshrine and fully protect the rights of our children.

“The judgment exposes the devolution settlement as even more limited than we all – indeed the Scottish Parliament itself -­ had understood.  It sets out new constraints on the ability of our elected Scottish Parliament to legislate to protect children’s rights in the way it determines.

“There is no doubt that the implications of this judgment are significant from a children’s rights perspective. This Bill will not now become law in the form which our Parliament agreed, but we remain committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent possible as soon as practicable.  Whilst the judgment means that the Bill cannot receive Royal Assent in its current form, the majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC can and is continuing.”

What we have here is a warning shot of a huge row which could also become a centrepiece in the debate over the Scottish independence referendum.

Official portrait of Dominic Raab, Lord High Chancellor

For at the same time Dominic Raab, the new justice secretary, wants to scrap the present UK human rights legislation which still allows appeals to the European Court of Human Rights.

It looks like – whatever the spin – is that he wants to take away human rights from women, the disabled, children and those facing racial discrimination- just at the point when Scotland and Wales want to extend them. We therefore have a perfect storm which could end with the break-up of the UK which is why I say this victory by Boris Johnson could backfire. It could end up being a Pyrrhic victory.

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Too expensive to tell you – the DWP cover up on whether they are really compensating millions who lost out on a Guaranteed Minimum Pension

The Department for Works and Pensions has compounded the big scandal over millions of people who are entitled to compensation for the ministry’s hidden decision to scrap an annual increase worth anything up to £27,000 over the lifetime of a pension for those, particularly women, who were contracted out of Serps by private companies.

Previous blogs highlighted this scandal after the Parliamentary Ombudsman ruled that there was maladministration in not telling millions of people that they would lose out when the new state pension was introduced in 2016. Only two people were compensated with sums of £500 and £750.

But the Ombudsman wimped out in enforcing the compensation for millions by allowing the DWP two years to take action to compensate people and then allowing them to create a factsheet which didn’t tell the full story.

Suspicious that the DWP was still avoiding to do anything a campaigner on this issue, Chris Thompson, put in a freedom of information request to the DWP to find out how many people have asked to be compensated,

The answer has now come back. The DWP said:

We can confirm that we hold information falling within the description specified in your request. However, we estimate that the cost of locating, retrieving and extracting the information for these requests, when aggregated, would exceed the appropriate limit of £600. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for central Government it is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

This was only asking about emails and letters the ministry had received since August 12 this year – a matter of a few weeks- it is rather suspicious if not laughable that this would take more than 3.5 days to find out. Surely the department would have a simple database to do a computer search.

Suspicion that nobody or few people have contacted the DWP

Mr Thompson suspects there is another reason.

” I think the reason the DWP don’t want to give me the information is that no one has contacted them or only a few which would show up by putting it on GOV.UK so that people only find out by happenchance which is not very satisfactory. For GOV UK to be a suitable way for people to find out about loss of GMP indexation then a majority of the 11 million people should see it. I wonder if they did any sort of assessment to find out how many people they thought  would find the fact sheet on the GOV.UK website.”

Again this bodes badly should the women born in the 1950s and 1960s achieve compensation for maladministration over the up to six year delay in receiving their pensions when the age was increased from 60 to 66. It sounds like the government won’t be very helpful in telling people how many were compensated.

However they may be another way to get hold of what is happening or rather what is not happening.

Stephen Timms MP to press DWP over numbers

Following some lobbying by Mr Thompson and myself Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the Commons works and pensions committee, plans to tackle the government over this omission.

He has been promised a six month review by the ministry on how the use of the factsheet is working.

He told us that he intends to write to the ministry in December demanding that as part of the review they disclose how many people have applied for compensation.

This means whether they like it or not the DWP will have to spend some money and time finding out – unless they are going to tell Mr Timms that it is too expensive to do the exercise. We shall wait and see but for some of the people who don’t know they are entitled to this money – it could be a matter of life and death – as they may already be in bad health and could die before they realise.

Previous blogs on this:

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EXCLUSIVE: Half baked and half hearted: DWP’s help for women facing domestic abuse and violence

With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse Pic credit: HelpGuide.org

The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.

You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.

The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.

Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.

No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker

But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.

And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.

That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.

But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.

But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue

But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.

Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”

Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.

Stephen Brien;:Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee

Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:

“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.

” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien

“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”

He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.

“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”

The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.

This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?

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Time for a new UN convention on the rights of older people

Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. As the number of older people grows in developed countries they are becoming a much bigger force.

Yet as we see in the UK the government pays mere lip service to them – trying to present the general public with the idea that they are all well off and preferring to focus on the young.

Indeed the present Tory government thinks it can get away with targeting them – along with the poor- for the mainstay of their new post pandemic austerity polices.

In the last few years they have taken away free TV licences for the over 75s, abolished the ” triple lock ” for pension rises for one of the lowest state pensions in developed countries, continually raise the pension age and targeted women born in the 1950s and 1960s -taking away around £50,000 in pension payments by raising their pension age.

Many people aged 60 cannot now get free bus passes until they are 66 and ministers now have their plans to make them pay full prescription charges from the ages of 60 to 66 – knowing that far more of them are unhealthy and suffer chronic ailments than younger people. And they are going to reintroduce national insurance contributions for those over 66 who supplement their pension by working.

Older people facing redundancy

There are also problems for older people being targeted for redundancies -indeed the organisation Rest Less, (website here) which monitors job prospects for the over 50s, suggests that there were half a million people over the age of 50 on furlough according to the latest figures. They are reporting growing numbers of economically inactive people in their 50s and 60s. How are they going to get a full pension?

So it is rather good news that JustFair – a campaigning organisation – is calling for a new international convention on the rights of older people. You can read about them and their proposal here. Sufficient to say it highlights a lot of issues affecting older women – and it has the backing of CEDAWinLaw which held a tribunal examining women’s rights and the case for putting that UN convention on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women into UK law.

As it says: “Gender inequality in older age is the result of disadvantages accumulated over the life course and further exacerbated by ageism and age discrimination. As a result, many older women are denied their rights, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate effect on both older persons and women. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic increased the gender gap by a generation.  This means that women will continue to reach older age in a disadvantaged position unless structural changes are made“.

Internationally the UN is highlighting a huge digital divide between developed nations and developing countries over the internet with older people the worst affected.

Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020).

Age UK Dacorum’s campaign to highlight the UN day

There are also lots of local events today highlighting the day. In my area in Hertfordshire Dacorum Age UK have a fund raising campaign called ” Slip into Slippers” celebrating the dignity of old age and the fact that many older people play a big role in the community.

Charlie Hussey, development officer for Age UK Dacorum said: “We are asking individuals businesses schools and clubs to get involved by Slipping into Slippers for some of the day, and encourage people to have some fun, make a small voluntary donation and take some photos / videos. All to raise funds and awareness of Age UK Dacorum and highlight the needs of older people and equally importantly the contributions they can still make to our community. “

I am also raising funds for my own website to develop my work holding the government and the powerful to account. Please donate if you can

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Book Review: Traitor King – the pathetic, anti- Semitic monarch who could have turned the UK into a Nazi state

The story of the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 has always been portrayed as a man who gave up the throne to marry the woman he loved. It was often thought that he was a victim of the British Establishment who would never favour in the 1930s a Royal marrying an American divorcee.

Now a new book by historian Andrew Lownie examines what happened after the abdication – and it is not a pretty picture. His meticulously researched account reveals a pathetically weak character falling desperately in love with Wallis Simpson who never really loved him but felt all her life duty bound to stay with the man who gave up the throne.

In this book the Duke of Windsor emerges as a tax avoider, a possible accessory to a murder, a golf bore, barely capable of reading a book and living a lavish tax free lifestyle, often at other people’s expense, in expensive homes in Paris and the French Riveria.

They truly emerge as a ghastly couple, who treated their loyal staff badly, strained relations with their friends and spent their lives in a fantasy world where they pretended they were still a King and Queen with all the trimmings and trappings. It is no wonder the Royal Family wanted little to do with them.

Support for the Nazis

But the most damaging behaviour revealed in this book is their active support for Nazism, including later the holocaust and encouraging the Isolationists in the United States not to become involved in the war.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor went on a tour of pre war Germany in 1937, had a close relationship with Ribbentrop and had tea with Hitler in Berchtesgaden. After the war. there were attempts to conceal embarrassing German papers which showed the connections between them and the Nazis. MI5 had a dossier on the couple which was destroyed after the war.

And strangely the one paper from the captured papers that is missing is the Duke’s conversation with Hitler in 1937. What is known that the Nazis thought the former King was a key person to get the United Kingdom to sue for peace after Dunkirk and he had been sounded out whether he would return to throne to head a Nazi state after peace negotiations. Such concerns led to him being whisked away to Bermuda and then made governor of the Bahamas for the rest of the war. He would have much preferred a role in the United Kingdom or the United States but turned them down the moment it was mentioned he would have to pay tax.

Even in the Bahamas he got involved with pretty despicable company, dodgy business people linked to money laundering and is thought to have been involved in the framing of a man for the murder of wealthy businessman, Sir Harry Oakes, whose fortune was hidden in a bank used as a stash house for Nazi war loot. It is even suggested he might have illicitly benefitted from Sir Harry’s fortune after he was murdered.

Their secret affairs

There is virtually nothing redeemable about the pair in this book Wallis had a long standing affair with a flamboyant gay dancer and socialite Jimmy Donahue. The Duke was bisexual and one his lovers was the Walter Chrysler, Junior, son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation. Together it is said they organised a party for1000 sailors aboard a Navy ship in Florida with 200 hookers. An Office of Naval Intelligence investigation into Chrysler has disappeared.

Andrew Lownie has chronicled a tragic tale of the idle rich who have nothing useful to do with their lives. It shows that money alone when you have no other purpose in life does not make you happy. But if he had succeeded in getting a negotiated peace with Germany he would have had a role and the UK and the British Empire would have been turned into a Fascist state. The country is lucky he failed.

Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor by Andrew Lownie £25

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HS2: The train going nowhere

Boris Johnson loves mad grandiose building projects ( remember the third London airport in the Thames Estuary) and more recently a tunnel/bridge under the Irish sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

Picturew of the design for the first HS2 trains

But what is emerging is that that even the most basic grandiose project -London’s Crossrail link and the high speed railway from London to Birmingham can’t be built on time to cost or even properly completed. A failure to integrate Crossrail with the rest of the railway system and continual cost rises for HS2 are the main reasons for delays.

MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last week achieved one first – getting HS2 to provide some proper figures on the real costs. The entire HS2 project – if ever built from London to Scotland – will be £98 billion if not more. The first phase from London to Birmingham now has a budget of £44.6 billion – of which £11 billion has already been spent but we won’t see any results for the travelling public until 2029 at the earliest if not 2032. And probably in reality even later.

What is more disturbing is that service will initially run only from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in west London -not to London Euston where it can connect with other services.

Whitehall still quarrelling over the plans

Worse still internal Whitehall quarrelling means that they haven’t even fixed the most crucial arrangement – what will the Euston terminus look like.

“The redevelopment of Euston station is currently estimated to cost £2.6 billion. Despite HS2 Ltd telling us last year that the design of the station was ready for planning consent, the Department has spent the past 15 months looking for cost saving options and efficiency opportunities, including the potential for a smaller station.

” HS2 Ltd asserts that it is getting close to the point where the programme will literally run out of time if a decision is not made soon, and that Old Oak Common is being set as the London terminus when the railway first opens to decouple it from the risks at Euston.”

Gigantic building site at Euston. Pic credit: Global Railway Review

This is an extraordinary situation. It is made much worse because the area around Euston Station is now one gigantic building site after homes, shops and private businesses that border onto the existing station were demolished. And people living next to the site are being moved because of the noise and dust. And all for a new terminus whose configuration has still to be determined by the Department of Transport and which could be smaller than currently planned.

Further up the line there are disputes involving the land they are purchasing, environmental damage and pollution problems created by the development.

Volume of complaints rising

The MPs report: “We are already concerned about the volume of complaints on disruption from the programme which does not bode well for the future as more communities will be impacted as construction progresses. HS2 Ltd estimates it has handled 124,000 queries over the past three years and interacted with over 76,000 people along the route.

….”the number of complaints from the public about High Speed 2 has increased as main construction on Phase One has started. Complaints to the Independent Construction Commissioner HS2 rose to 86 in the first quarter of 2021 from 74 in the previous quarter. The majority of complaints are about the impact of construction on roads and traffic, vegetation clearance and about noise and vibration. Due to the scale of the programme and the time until the railway is complete, complaints are likely to increase.”

As part of its ” levelling up ” programme the government has promised to reskill the nation so people can get jobs as part of the regeneration of Britain post Brexit. Yet again the MPs point to further failures. The much trumpeted National College for High Speed Rail was a failure in attracting students and has had to be renamed the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure and, most recently, merged with the University of Birmingham.

The MPs report: “The Department admits that the performance of the college has been disappointing and hopes that its latest merger, new leadership and new curriculum from September 2021 will be an opportunity to get the best out of the arrangement. Yet the Department’s involvement with the college has been limited as it falls under the Department for Education’s accountability remit.”

As for extending the railway to Scotland via Leeds and Sheffield that is in doubt and could be scaled back to Crewe. This has been partly confirmed by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who in an interview yesterday with the Financial Times has cast doubt on whether the line from Birmingham to Leeds along the eastern side of England will ever be built – hinting that other projects may have priority.

We want to make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network and not blindly follow some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people.” he said.

This completely contradicts what he said only in May when he promised the government would “complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds”. All this suggests that costs must be mounting up with another U turn in prospect.

If this is levelling up – it is farcical

So what do we have here? An extremely expensive part built railway that may not even initially link Birmingham and central London beset with issues and aeons away from the dream of a high speed line linking Scotland with central London.

If this is to be an example of ” levelling up ” Britain it is just farcical. Meanwhile in the European Union we left the high speed train network goes from strength to strength with new lines and a sleeper train network planned that will reduce the need for air travel – all part financed by British train customers as most of the companies running our train services are owned by state rail companies based in the EU.

Our new high speed train system is going nowhere soon and causing nothing but pain and disruption.

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National Audit Office reveals DWP’s “almost inevitable” errors in calculating your pension as £1 billion is owed to 134,000 pensioners

Woman pensioner. pic credit: Which?

A highly critical National Audit Office report today exposes major shortcomings in the running of the country’s state pension system.

With some 12 million people relying on the Department for Work and Pensions to calculate their pension accurately the auditors reveal a sorry picture of outdated IT systems, civil servants reduced to making manual calculations and mistakes galore with no proper system to identify the errors in the first place.

The NAO investigation was triggered when former pensions minister Liberal Democrat Sir Steve Webb and Tanya Jefferies of ThisIsMoney.co.uk, last year started to refer a number of cases to the Department of women who had been underpaid. On 26 May 2020 Sir Steve published an estimate of the level of underpayments using the
information obtained from the Department combined with public information from the Family Resource Survey that at least 220,000 women had been underpaid including 131,000 married women, 56,000 widows and 35,000 divorcees.

90 per cent of the losers are women

Now the department has admitted that 134,000 people have indeed been given underpaid pensions and it will cost £1.053 billion to compensate them. This figures excludes those who have already died because the department wipes them from its records after four years

Once again 90 per cent of them are women, and only 10 per cent men.

What is particularly alarming is the summary in the report about the whole pensions system.

It says: ” The errors occurred because State Pension rules are complex, IT systems are outdated and unautomated, and the administration of claims requires a high degree of manual review and understanding by case workers. This makes some level of error in the processing of State Pension claims almost inevitable.

The Department’s caseworkers often failed to set (and later action) manual IT system prompts on pensioners’ files to review the payments at a later date, such as their spouse reaching State Pension Age or their 80th birthday. Caseworkers also often made errors when they did process prompts because frontline staff found instructions difficult to use and lacked training on complex cases.

Worse the department seem to have a top down approach to find out about errors – rather than a bottom up from the pensioners themselves who might challenge their pension awards. Therefore it never picks up a large volume of similar complaints.

Wrong assumption that there are no errors

As a result there always been the assumption – and it was taken until now by the National Audit Office- that there was virtually no fraud or error in the payment of the £100 billion plus to pensioners every year. This has now been proved wrong.

The ministry is recruiting 544 people – at a cost of £24.3 million – to chase up and pay out the money to people who have lost out. But it is going to take some two years to do this with priority being given to the over 80s and widows. It has no plan on how to compensate relatives of dead pensioners owed money- and the NAO think it should create one.

Meg Hillier MP

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said

“Many pensioners – most of whom are likely to be women – have been short-changed by thousands of pounds which they are still yet to receive many years later.

DWP must provide urgent redress to those affected and take real action to prevent similar errors in future.”

A DWP spokesperson said:

“We are fully committed to ensuring the historical errors that have been made by successive Governments are corrected, and as this report acknowledges, we’re dedicating significant resource to doing so. Anyone impacted will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.

“Since we became aware of this issue, we have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again.”

Fourth pensions scandal to hit DWP

However one must comment that this is the fourth scandal to hit the DWP over the payment of pensions and women are by far the worst treated. First we had the 3.8 million 50swomen not being properly informed about the raising the pension age which the Ombudsman has found there was maladministration. Then we had the complicated story of people losing their guaranteed minimum pension uprating which could affect 11 million people, mainly women. Again the Ombudsman found maladministration but only two people have been compensated. And now we are also having delays for people claiming their pension for the first time in getting paid.

Cynics might conclude the ministry is almost misogynist in its approach – and also all these delays is ensuring more people -particularly in the age of Covid- will be dead before they get the money that is owed to them.

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