This weekend I had the honour of chairing a session at the Byline Festival for BackTo60 Campaigning Group in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.
The occasion was important for giving wider publicity to a new generation how successive government’s cruel treatment of a large group of 3.8 million women who are waiting up to six years for their pension. And also to show to the young that by having guts and determination ( which the 5,000 people at Byline Fest have in droves) us oldies can also press our case home by arguing and succeeding in getting a judicial review to try and remedy this injustice.
It was also to warn them that this group will be the first of many to find themselves in a similar predicament. This is particularly so if former Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s charity, the Centre for Social Justice, succeeds in getting the UK to have a retirement age of 75 by 2035 – giving it by then the dubious accolade of being a world leader in forcing people to work until they drop.
Amber Rudd, the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, says the government won’t do it, I don’t believe her. For the role of think tanks is to influence government and prepare the people for the changes they want, and this is the think tank that proposed Universal Credit, which any self respecting person will think has been an unmitigated disaster for the poor and the disabled.
The story of the pension scandal that hit the 50s born women is not a boring pensions tale. It covers Whitehall skulduggery, effectively saving £271 billion of public money by removing the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund; a failure to properly communicate the change in pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 to the people affected until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
And the revelation of the hardship, and misery it had inflicted on people driving them to despair even suicide as they haven’t the money to live on.
And finally the fake news that we are all living longer – which has hardly been the case since 2011 when it flatlined. It has only been the wealthy who are living longer, for the poor in part of the UK like Glasgow and Blackpool it has started to fall.
It also a tale of hope – of challenging the government in the courts and finding a legal mechanism – a temporary special measure – which can be used to redress this balance – thanks to the work of one of the speakers at the session, Jackie Jones, MEP for Wales and a former professor of feminist studies at the West of England University.
What was gratifying was the interest among the young and older festival goers who came to listen. They engaged with the issue, asked pertinent questions, even if some were shocked at the antiquated attitudes in the 1970s when Dr Davina Lloyd, revealed that she was banned from going to university in the 1970s because she was a married woman and was expected to stay at home. She was saved by Roy Jenkins, who went on to become home secretary, who passed a law allowing married women to train as teachers.
Members of the panel did a YouTube film with the Byline Festival after the session. It is below.