Labour Conference: WASPI promise £10,000 minimum compensation for six million women pensioners but nobody is negotiating with them

WASPI held a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool this week. The organisation is campaigning to end women’s state pension equality and wants women born in the 1950s and 1960s to be compensated for them failure of the government to properly inform them of the effects of the six year delay from 60 to 66 in raising their pension age.

The meeting offered a great selection of Canapés-including dairy free ones for not a very big audience of 50 people- but I doubt anyone left any wiser on what would happen next. It took place with a running total banner showing over 203,573 of the women had died and the Treasury had saved over £3.1 billion by these deaths

Baroness Glenys Thornton the main guest pic credit Chris McAndrew

Angela Madden, Waspi’s campaign leader did put a figure on compensation for the pensioners for a one off payment -from £10,000 to £20,000 at.cost of £40 billion to £50 billion.

She told the audience that WASPI was still proceeding with a case with the Parliamentary Ombudsman to get compensation. But even with the support of the All Party Parliamentary Group for state pension inequality the maximum would be £10,000.

She gave the audience a very heavily edited version of the Ombudsman’s position saying he backed maladministration which boosted their case.

WASPI economical with the truth

In fact this was being very economic with the truth. The Ombudsman’s first report backed only partial maladministration which would automatically reduce compensation and was never challenged by Waspi. She made no reference to the second report which reduces compensation even further by saying people do not need to be compensated for financial loss only worry and confusion. And she made no reference to WASPI’s investigation into the alleged decision of the DWP’s Independent Case Examiner to destroy 2500 of the letters from complainants about their pension delay. You can read the still confidential report and the scandal at ICE on this site.

Worse she disclosed that Waspi had tried to meet government ministers to press their case but ministers would not even see them.

Labour were more diplomatic since the main speaker at the fringe was Baroness Glenys Thornton, the Lords shadow equalities minister. She repeated that Keir Starmer was sympathetic and wanted to compensate the women. But when it came to a £50 billion price tag she was not going to commit to that. Afterwards she told me she had to be “very cautious” in mentioning any sum at all.

She was much stronger on the plight of cold pensioners failing to keep warm during the present cost of living crisis and gave some advice on how campaigners could raise issues.

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Judge’s extraordinary injunction against HS2 protestors banning nearly one million people from trespassing anywhere on 170 mile route

HS2 Protest : pic credit: Construction News

The day after the official mourning period of the Queen ended Mr Justice Julian Knowles issued a judgement that made British legal history for its scope and scale of curbing future protests in England.

His ruling was an astounding victory for the HS2 Ltd – builders of the £98 billion high speed rail line – and Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary recently sacked by Liz Truss, the new PM.

They had sought an injunction to stop campaigners against the route from disrupting activity – such as building tunnels near London Euston and Staffordshire or trying to stop destruction of the countryside – such as in Wendover, Buckinghamshire- by injuncting all the people involved.

But Mr Justice Julian Knowles gave them more than they could have dreamed of – by injuncting any protest activity along the whole route from London to Crewe- and extending it to categories of unknown people as well as the 59 people named in the injunction bringing in hundreds of thousands of other people who support the protestors.

He ruled that “there has been significant violence, criminality and sometimes risk to the life of the activists, HS2 staff and contractors”, adding that “much of the direct action seems to have been less about expressing the activists’ views about the HS2 Scheme, and more about trying to cause as much nuisance as possible, with the overall aim of delaying, stopping or cancelling it via, in effect, a war of attrition”.

Massive legal precedent set by judge

The legal precedent the judge has allowed could open the doors to other national bodies – such as EDF who run state owned nuclear power plants – or Sellafield to seek such wide ranging injunctions against nuclear protestors – or new fracking companies extending their local injunctions to cover the whole of the country. Or the Just Stop Oil protestors – who have dug tunnels at oil terminals – could find them subject to a national ban.

Parliamentary sovereignty invoked

The judge’s reasoning was simple. He was not taking sides on whether he approved or rejected the construction of HS2. Instead he said the scheme had been approved and debated by Parliament and to protest against it by causing criminal damage was effectively in breach of Parliamentary sovereignty. He denied that his decision would have a chilling effect on protests because people could protest peacefully without having to trespass on the site or block construction entrances.

He bought the arguments of HS2 that these had already cost them £120m and could cost £200m and provided work for 27,000 people. He also accepted that HS2 could not afford to employ security staff or ask the police to patrol the entire route. He saw no point on HS2 issuing damages claims against the named individuals because they had no money.

He defended the huge scale of his injunction by saying: “I have anxiously considered the geographical extent of the injunction along the whole of the HS2 route, and whether it should be more limited.

“I have concluded, however, given the plain evidence of the protesters’ intentions to continue to protest and disrupt without limit – ‘let’s keep fucking up HS2’s day and causing as much disruption and cost as possible. Coming to land near you’ – such an extensive injunction is appropriate.”

Warning to over zealous security staff

He did however issue a warning to overzealous security staff injuring protestors citing the case of one person who knelt on a protestor’s neck – similar to the case of George Floyd who died in the US when a policeman knelt on his neck and sparked the Black Lives Matters protests. Presumably he didn’t want a Protestors Lives Matters campaign in the UK.

What is more interesting is the service of the injunction – which could land people in prison if they disobey it.

For the 59 people named he ruled: “Service of this Order on Named Defendants may be effected by personal service where practicable and/or posting a copy of this Order through the letterbox of each Named Defendant (or leaving in a separate mailbox), with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact the package contains a court order. If the premises do not have a letterbox, or mailbox, a package containing this Order may be affixed to or left at the front door or other prominent feature marked with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact that the package contains a court order and should be read urgently.”

But for the unnamed people the judge ruled that Facebook and Twitter had made large number of people know about the injunction. The protestors’ fundraising account had 265,268 followers.

Grant Shapps at the HS2 Old Oak Common construction site Pic credit: HS2 Ltd

“A non-exhaustive review of Facebook shows that information about the injunction and/or the link to a fundraiser has been posted and shared extensively across pages with thousands of followers and public groups with thousands of followers. Membership of the groups on Facebook to which the information has been shared amounts to 564,028.”

So there was no need for HS2 to individually inform these people.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2 Ltd welcomes this judgment and its approval of the route-wide injunction. As Justice Knowles makes clear, this injunction will not, and is not intended to, stop legitimate protest. Instead, we hope the injunction will prevent the violence, intimidation and criminal damage these protests have frequently caused, harming the HS2 project and those working on it, and costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.”

But it looks as though protestors may challenge this judgement

The Guardian reported :” Lawyers representing one of the environmental activists. Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar solicitors, representing the activist James Knaggs, said: “This is a disappointing outcome. This injunction represents a concerning extension of the powers of a state-owned limited company to control and police large swathes of land across England. There is a concern that it constitutes a wide-ranging restriction on protests opposed to HS2 and is of extremely large geographical scope. It applies to very large areas of land, much of which is unfenced and unmarked.”

I can see this issue developing now Liz Truss is committed to creating growth and allowing free market policies at the expense of the environment, human rights and equal justice for all.

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Adding Insult to Injury: How another regulator dumped on 50swomen pensions complaints

Joanna Wallace, Independent Case Examiner for the DWP Pic Credit: Ombudsman Association

This is Joanna Wallace. She is the Independent Case Examiner for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Her latest annual report for 2020-21 – the one for the last financial year has not yet been published promises “a free independent complaints review service for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and their contracted services “. It says it will “act as an independent adjudicator if a complainant considers that they have not been treated fairly or have not had their complaints dealt with in a satisfactory manner; and to support service improvements by providing constructive comment and meaningful recommendations.”

Her report also boasts “To deliver a first rate service provided by professional staff.”

For its handling of 50swomen pension complaints it has provided nothing of the sort. To investigate this I have drawn on the findings of the confidential Parliamentary Ombudsman’s second report into maladministration over the delay in the payment of women’s pensions. There has also been an alleged development that suggests that she has destroyed all the evidence submitted by complainants.

For a start its claim to be independent is questionable. It works under a contract set by the DWP and has to apply DWP rules set by ministers in Parliamentary legislation. It has no independent web address using the dwp one. It is based in Bootle round the corner from Liverpool jobcentre and in the same road as the Health and Safety Executive.

But more serious is its record. In 2020-21 4,205 people complained to it about the DWP everything from pensions, universal credit, disability benefits to child maintenance. Of these nearly 3000 were rejected without any investigation and only 146 of the remaining 1013 cases were fully upheld. Another 338 were partial upheld and 350 were rejected. A number of others fell by the wayside.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

So it is perhaps not surprising that 50swomen would be given short shrift by Ms Wallace. The Ombudsman’s report about their handling of the women’s complaints is very revealing. The report says:

“ICE told us it received ‘an unprecedented volume’ of complaints about DWP’s communication about State Pension age, and it received no additional resources to deal with them. ” In other words the DWP made doubly sure it did not have the money to properly investigate

The report said; ” the vast majority of complainants used a standard template. ICE selected a ‘lead case’ (one of our sample complainant’s complaints) for investigation and then applied its findings in that case to each of the cases it investigated.” In other words just one complainant was examined in detail and its findings applied to the rest. Altogether 192 were looked at, the remaining 2300 complaints were never examined once a judicial review was granted by the courts to look into the failure of the DWP’s actions and inequality of its policies towards 50swomen over this issue.

The complainants case fell at the first hurdle since ICE took as standard what the DWP later justified in the judicial review that the 1995 Pensions Act made no provision for it to tell anyone. Once the DWP took that view ICE had to abide by its contract with the DWP.

As the Ombudsman reports : “It found there was no requirement for DWP to inform women of changes to their State Pension age, and that DWP had no standards for communicating changes about State Pension.”

It concluded: “as DWP had not committed to communicating changes to State Pension age individually to those affected, and given that accurate information was available on request, DWP not notifying women personally from 1995 onwards did not amount to maladministration. “

Women complaining to ICE thought they were being treated as liars

What is worse is ICE’s attitude towards 50swomen who complained they had never received the letter

which some complainants saw as treating them as liars.

The Ombudsman reports: “ICE concluded that it was more likely than not letters had been sent to complainants, at the correct address,” citing when people were written to in 2012 – some 17 years after the legislation was passed.

The ombudsman reports: “DWP has no record of who it wrote to or when, meaning that information was never available to ICE.  So, there is not enough evidence to support ICE’s conclusion it was more likely than not DWP wrote to complainants who have said they never received a letter.  What ICE should have said in the circumstances is that it could not determine whether or not DWP sent letters to the individual complainants at the time it wrote to people in their age group. “

The Ombudsman then lets ICE off the hook by saying ,” we do not think the shortcomings in its handling of this issue were significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’ on this occasion.”  

There is one extraordinary allegation following this report which is being investigated by WASPI.

According to Kay Clarke, who is the founder member of 1950sWOW (Women of Wales)and beyond, co -founder PP4J & Cardiff WASPI, ICE have now admitted in a letter that it has destroyed all 2,500 records of complaints.

She told me: “I can give assurance that the letter exists and quite categorically affirm the facts.”

I have not seen the letter but I have contacted ICE for a comment about this. They have not replied nor even acknowledged the email I sent.

If this is the fact the combination of the DWP not recording who complained to them and ICE destroying all the evidence of their complaints will make it very difficult for any of the 50swomen to claim anything should eventually they be awarded compensation by the Ombudsman.

Yet another hurdle in this sorry saga has been put in place.

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A whistleblower consultant’s victory that exposes scandals at the Care Quality Commission and a hospital trust

Whistleblower Dr Shyam Kumar; Pic Credit: BBC

The victory by whistleblower Dr Shyam Kumar, an orthopaedic surgeon, against his unfair dismissal as an part time inspector for the Care Quality Commission is just the tip of an iceberg scandal at both the CQC and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

His victory – I am glad to say reported by the BBC, the Guardian and the medical press- was only possible by his persistence in the face of obstruction by the body that is supposed to hold up standards of medical care to protect patients and the collusion of a trust to protect its own reputation.

He told the BBC: “”The whole energy of a few individuals in the CQC was spent on gunning me down, rather than focusing on improvement to patient safety and exerting the regulatory duties,”

“I was perceived as a troublemaker within the CQC, or as a thorn in their side. That’s what I believe. And they just ignored it. And finally, people got involved.” 

The ruling at Manchester Employment Tribunal by Employment judge Mark Butler said he had received detriment for speaking out and awarded him £23,000 for injury to this feelings. Dr Kumar had not sought any other compensation.

The judge said:” There is evidence throughout this case….that the decision to disengage the claimant in this case (and the placing him on hold) has had a serious impact on the claimant’s reputation causing him injury to feelings. There were suggestions of misconduct by the claimant … where no evidence of this existed, and vague assertions of a breach of undefined values of the respondent … used in an attempt to justify the decisions made in this case, after the event” Instead the judge described Mr Kumar as a man with an untarnished reputation and expertise.

Dr X left a hip replacement patient never able to use her limbs

The detail of the concerns Dr Kumar found are deeply disturbing for patients. One involved Dr X whose two hip replacements on an elderly lady which overlooked the dislocation of her pelvis and she had to come back to accident and emergency unable to walk and his colleagues thought she would never be able to use her limbs again. When he raised this with the CQC and said a back review of Dr X’s cases should take place he was told the trust did not want to do this for reputational reasons.

When the Royal College of Surgeons did their own review much later into Dr X they found 26 out of 46 operations were matters of concern.

The judgement said:

a. some surgeries undertaken by Dr X were not completed to an acceptable
standard
b. some of the surgery and quality of care provided by Dr X was unacceptable.
c. some clinical decision making to undertake surgery by Dr X was
inappropriate.
d. in some cases there was either no or a lack of evidence of a “Duty of
Candour”

Dr Kumar was thanked by the associate medical director of the trust , Mr Damian Riley in 2021 for his work.

But at the time of the CQC inspection Dr Kumar faced a barrage of criticism from CQC officials, was effectively suspended from his job, and subject to racist attacks including being accused of being ” a traitor to his community ” for raising issues about Dr X’s competence by another trust doctor, Dr Sinha.

At a CQC focus meeting Dr Kumar was even falsely accused of deliberately creating NHS waiting lists so people would have to go privately – making extra money for doctors.

The CQC’s response was to side more with the trust than the whistleblower. This led Dr Kumar to write to the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards. complaining that “patient safety is being
significantly compromised by the behaviour of some CQC staff.” He also complained he had been bullied and obstructed by CQC officials, his professional independence had been undermined and his whistleblowing concerns ignored.

The court upheld his protective disclosures. The judge also took a strong line in allowing the press access to all the documents in the case and also restricted an attempt by the CQC lawyers to restrict reporting of the Royal College of Surgeons report on the grounds that families had to be told first. The judge granted a very short restricted reporting period and was never challenged again.

The CQC in a statement said: “We accept the tribunal findings and have learnt from this case. We have already improved many of our processes and will continue to review these based on the findings to ensure we make any further necessary changes.”

Much wider issues than just this case

But there seems to me a much wider issue here about the behaviour of this particular trust and the role of regulation. This is not the first time this trust has been found wanting. There is the case of Peter Duffy, a consultant surgeon, working for the Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust. Faced with failures at the trust in the emergencies department he expressed concern for two patients who subsequently died from kidney sepsis.

One would have expected the Trust to have remedied the situation. Instead they turned on him rather than admit any failings. As he told Matthew Syed on Dispatches: ” I was on the receiving end of allegations of bullying, abuse and racism. And so what I hoped would be an attempt to raise standards became an investigation of myself”.

He was eventually proved right after an investigation disclosed multiple problems but not until after a five year toxic battle and now practices in the Isle of Man.

Inquiry chair Dr Bill Kirkup Pic credit: gov.uk

There is also the 2015 inquiry report by Dr Bill Kirkup into Furness Hospital, run by the trust over the deaths of babies and appalling maternity care.

As he says in his introduction: “The result was avoidable harm to mothers and babies, including tragic and unnecessary deaths. What followed was a pattern of failure to recognise the nature and severity of the problem, with, in some cases, denial that any problem existed, and a series of missed opportunities to intervene that involved almost every level of the NHS.”

There is a disturbing pattern that repeats itself. Whistleblowers, whether doctors or families, raise serious life and death issues, are ignored, denied justice, bullied and attacked, using the power of the state to buy expensive lawyers to try and crush them -only for them to be proved right in the end. With the Dr Chris Day case due to report this month following an extraordinary employment tribunal hearing where evidence was destroyed, it remains to see whether this pattern can start to be broken .

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Tragic tale of a mentally disturbed woman now facing jail for misusing and over using the NHS

Judge Rebecca Brown’s wig on display at Milton Keynes Museum

A very poignant hearing for contempt by a mentally disturbed woman was held at Milton Keynes County Court last week presided over by Her Honour Judge Rebecca Brown.

Gillian Marriott was facing a committal hearing brought by Thames Valley Police for breaching a court order made two years ago which banned her from contacting the emergency services or attending Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury except in a genuine medical emergency. She is now facing two six month prison sentences and the possibility of a much longer prison sentence if she breaches the order for the next two years. She had already been remanded in custody before the hearing.

The judge took the decision in her absence and without any statement by her in her defence but she was represented by a lawyer.

I am highlighting this story because it neatly encapsulates in one episode what is going wrong with mental health treatment, what is happening to a pressurised NHS in the current crisis and the desperation of public authorities to deal with disturbed people by deciding that incarceration in a prison is the only solution. I don’t know the woman concerned but her situation is very well summed up by the judge in her ruling.

114 calls to 999 and 217 calls to the 111 services

Thames Valley Police who brought the case say she “has made 114, 999 calls and 217, 111 calls reporting various medical episodes. These
have all been triaged and checked causing demand on the service unnecessarily” and had attended ” Stoke Mandeville Hospital on occasions which were not for genuine medical need. It is alleged that the defendant attended Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the 23rd of March 2022 claiming an overdose but all her vitals we checked and found to be normal.”

Stoke Mandeville Hospital Pic credit: BBC

The court were told she turned up at Stoke Mandeville claiming to have taken an overdose on “7th of April 2022 , 11th of April 2022 , 13th of April 2022 , 15th of April 2022 , 21st of April 2022 , 26th of April 2022 , 22nd of May 2022 and 3rd of June 2022.”

She also turned up at the accident and emergency department claiming she had taken an overdose on the 15th , 19th , 21st 27th , 28th and 29th of June 2022 and the 18th of July 2022.

She admitted turning up but claimed she had genuinely thought she was ill and needed treatment

Her psychiatrist, Dr Srikanth Nimmagaddam said in a statement to the court that she had ” a history of being brought up in an overprotective environment in the context of the death of her brother. She also feels that she suffered from emotional abuse, as her parents regularly adversely compared her with her deceased brother. She gives a history of problems at school and being sent to a special school. She gives a history of being severely bullied and discriminated at school, as she went to a special school. She gives a history that at the age of 11, she was raped by a person, who later blackmailed to harm her father. She had to withdraw the case and that resulted in being accused by the police of wasting their time. All this seems to have been extremely traumatic for her given her young age. She did some farm jobs
until the age of 25, when she was married. One of her daughters was taken into care.”

He said “I believe there is clear evidence to suggest that she has a personality disorder – an emotionally unstable personality disorder of borderline type. The features of her personality disorder include impulsivity, including acting impulsively without considering the consequences; severe mood swings; chronic feelings of emptiness; uncertainty about her aims, objectives and goals in life; chronic low self-esteem; difficulties in sustaining relationships with a constant fear of rejection and abandonment; maladaptive coping mechanisms in the form of numerous acts of deliberate self-harm and of substance abuse.”

He ruled she was fit to plead and recommended a treatment programme that would not require a hospital admission but would require residential accommodation.

Some of the care plan unavailable because of resources

But Leanne Manning, Community Psychiatric Nurse, told the court: ” Some of the suggested aspects of the care plan are not available in terms of resources such as a residential placement. Ms. Manning thought supported accommodation would assist Ms. Marriott because it she may feel more supported and less isolated.
Ms. Manning informed the court that Ms. Marriott could attend a number of courses at the Whiteleaf centre such as mindfulness classes, managing mood classes and managing and understanding your diagnosis classes. Ms. Manning also told the court that instead of telephoning 999 or 111, Ms. Marriott should first try to consider whether she really needs medical assistance by going through a checklist that she has. She can then telephone the Whiteleaf centre to speak to Ms. Manning or another worker or telephone a “social prescriber” who is based at the GP.”

The police’s lawyer took a hard line against her. Mr Garnett said: “the breaches were a deliberate flouting of the order and the breaches were serious and egregious.”

He argued that there was a high degree of culpability. No real mitigation has been put before the court because there is no evidence from Ms. Marriott. The evidence is that Ms. Marriott has refused to engage with any treatment plan which would
assist her in her impulse control which would stop this conduct.”

Ms Marriott’s Lawyer, Mr Killen, said she would agree to go on the course but not move into residential accommodation.

He said” she values her independence too much and has lived in her current accommodation for a long time.”

The Judge said she had considerable sympathy and compassion for Ms Marriott but ruled that her actions amounted to a criminal standard that Ms. Marriott knew that she was making unnecessary calls and as such continued to add unnecessary burdens to the NHS whether it be A and E, ambulance drivers and other medical staff. But she said she had not done it out of malice more because of her vulnerability.

People may die because ambulances are being diverted to Ms Marriott – judge

There is immense pressure on the NHS and emergency services and people may die because an ambulance is not available because it
has been diverted to Ms. Marriott. I am satisfied that Ms. Marriott understands the terms of the injunction and knows that the number of callouts is unacceptable.”

Her judgement concluded: “The court therefore orders that Ms. Marriott serves a term of six months for the 999 and 111 calls and a further sentence of 6 months for the visits to Stoke Mandeville, each sentence to run concurrently and be suspended for two years until 22.8.2024. This court specifically warned Ms. Marriott that if she appears back before this court, has made no sustained attempt at engaging with work to address her behaviour and has carried on breaching the order, she is likely to receive a significant custodial sentence as well as serve the activated suspended sentence.”

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Backto60 takes The Great Pension Robbery to the Edinburgh fringe

Backto60 brought their campaign for full restitution to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the Bank Holiday weekend with the help of two Scottish women actors and comedians.

For half an hour at Edinburgh’s St Andrews Square Sandra McNeely and Julie Coombe, who are well known on Scottish TV, tell the tough story of the fight for 3.8 million 50s born women to get full restitution for their lost pensions when successive governments increased the pension age from 60 to 66 with all the facts, interspersed with songs, poetry and jokes.

The no holds bar performance castigated everyone from George Osborne, the former Chancellor to Guy Opperman, the current pensions minister, and of course, Boris Johnson. It gave a really good synopsis of injustice facing this group of women ending with the sad fact that during the half hour performance two more women would have died without ever receiving their pension.

Sandra McNeely has appeared in the TV series, Taggart, Happy Hollidays, Scot Squad, and the drama Ashes available on Amazon Prime.

Julie Coombe has appeared on TV in Hope Springs and on stage recently in Lena! and Hormonal Housewives.

Both are very supportive of the Backto60 campaign and gave pro bono performances with the aim of spreading the word to festival fringe audiences. You can watch the video above.

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WASPI finally issues a statement on the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report – but keeps its supporters in the dark on its dire findings

Reaction from a 50s woman to the first report of the Ombudsman

Waspi, one of the organisations seeking compensation for women born in the 1950s, has finally broken its silence on the second stage of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s investigation into maladministration at the Department of Work and Pensions.

A statement on its site reads:

“the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has now circulated a provisional draft of its second report, on the emotional and financial impact of that maladministration, to complainants – but has done so on condition of confidentiality.

The report follows the PHSO’s findings last year that “The opportunity that additional notice would have given them [WASPI women] to adjust their retirement plans was lost… Despite having identified there was more it could do, it failed to provide the public with as full information as possible.” The Ombudsman’s office additionally encouraged DWP to be “proactive” in finding a remedy for the women affected.

WASPI is now taking legal advice on the contents of the draft second report and how best to respond to the PHSO before they finalise the report. Subject to that advice, WASPI will respond on behalf of the Campaign, and we state again the following points:

A fuller statement of our position is on our website https://www.waspi.co.uk/…/waspi-statement-to-phsos…/

It remains a political decision by government not to heed the PHSO’s advice to be ‘proactive’ in finding a remedy to this injustice. THANK YOU to everyone who has signed our open letter to the two Conservative leadership candidates on this subject. Please do sign if you haven’t already and ask family and friends to do so too. We aim to reach 20,000 signatures by the end of this week. You can find the link to the letter on the website too.

We will be sure to keep you informed of developments.”

Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

It is good that they are taking legal advice about the report but their lawyers are going to work very hard to refute parts of the report. Issues like everyone knew about the pension change but their members didn’t understand what it meant for them or the fact that the report says maladministration was not responsible for financial losses or bad health of their members. See my blog on what the report says.

Their statement also glosses over that it is only partial maladministration for just 28 months -from 2006 to 2009 – over whole period from 1995 to 2010. Both these issues point to a much lower level of compensation – hence I suppose their campaign to end the process of seeking compensation and just get a quick one off payment. The problem with that is the government knows that the Ombudsman is backing down on seeking compensation for bad health and financial losses. Potential Tory PM’s Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have said they are not interested.

Old canard of claims people wanted the pension age lowered to 60

I am also a bit amazed that the organisation repeats the old canard that they don’t want the pension age reduced to 60. Nobody has wanted that to my knowledge – the nearest was a suggestion of equalising pension ages of men and women to 63. What Backto60 wanted was full restitution for the money lost by the decision -not a reduction in the pension age to 60.

One really wonders what the six people who brought the maladministration complaints think about this -even if they have to keep a vow of silence -which I do not -on the findings. I gather WASPI has not bothered to consult them but gone on its own agenda and gagged them from talking about it. Basically all I can see is a huge group of women being let down by everybody in sight, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ombudsman and now Waspi hiding behind a veil of secrecy.

In the long run this will be seen as one of the great betrayals. But in the long term there will be a reversal of these attitudes – the UN Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women will prevail. In the meantime there will be a cracking report soon from the CEDAWinLAW tribunal on this issue – a tribunal that the deputy chair of the UN Convention, came from Geneva to give evidence. The darkest hour is always before the dawn.

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Exclusive: Leaked Parliamentary Ombudsman report blames 50s Women for not understanding they would have to wait six more years for a pension

It says the 3.8 million affected by the six year delay can’t blame DWP maladministration for their financial losses and bad health

Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman Pic credit PHSO

The second stage of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s investigation into maladministration at the Department for Work and Pensions in failing to inform 3.8 million women born in the 1950s has dealt a devastating blow to their hopes of any meaningful compensation.

The confidential 298 paragraph provisional report, seen by me, is meant to analyse whether the maladministration finding means the women could be entitled to compensation following the first inquiry finding of maladministration for a 28 month period after 2006 The answer is very little and miles away from the £50,000 full restitution demanded in the courts by the Backto60 campaign

The report is also damning for the cause of the Waspi campaign who put all their resources into expecting the Ombudsman to come to the rescue. It is plain from the reading of the provisional report that he has no intention of doing so. This why I suspect Waspi have sent a desperate letter to the two Tory leadership candidates asking for a one off payment. When whoever wins gets round to seeing this Ombudsman’s report they won’t need to bother. The report contains no recommended figures for compensation. That will be in the next report.

The first paragraph of the report knocks down -one of the central planks of the 50swomen case- that nobody really realised the 1995 Pensions Act really meant the pension age for women was rising from 60 to 65 15 years later.

It reads:” The evidence we have seen so far suggests timely and accurate information was available about the change in eligibility criteria for a State Pension, including how someone’s National Insurance record links to how much State Pension they can claim once they reach State Pension age.  Research showed the majority of people knew about the changes

Everybody knew about the pensions changes says report

Instead it blames the women themselves for not realising their impending losses while the rest of the UK knew exactly what was going on. Really?

Research also showed that too many people did not understand their own situations and how State Pension reform affected them.  The gap between awareness and understanding was highlighted by the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office. DWP does not appear to have used research and feedback to improve its service and performance.  In this respect, DWP does not seem to have demonstrated principles of good administration.  We think that was maladministration. However, we do not think this maladministration led to the financial losses complainants claim.

The report then emphasises that people had a choice in the old pension system – to pay for an additional pension on top of the basic state pension – but some chose to contract out of this. This is in fact not entirely true as some employers contracted them out of this scheme -so they would not have to contribute. As a result when the new pension came in in 2016 – some of these women will not get the full pension even though they have contributed for years.

The report then follows the Department of Work and Pensions line that this really doesn’t matter as everybody in the UK will be better off under the new pension than the old one. This is the same line the DWP used not to compensate people promised a Guaranteed Minimum Pension though millions lost out. But as I have said before this is a false comparison because everybody gets this new pension level whether they need to be compensated or not.

Maladministration did not cause financial consequences

It then turns to the issue of the hardship caused to the women by this long wait. The report said:

We also do not think maladministration in DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age more likely than not led to all the financial, health, domestic and emotional consequences complainants claim. Complainants told us they made choices they would not have made if they had known their State Pension age had changed, and described the financial, family and health consequences those choices have had. However, some of their choices had already been made by the
time DWP should have written to them about changes resulting from the 1995 Pensions Act.

We do not think women lost opportunities to make different decisions, if those decisions had already been made by the time DWP should have written to them.

Instead it sticks to the argument that a 28 month delay in writing to women from December 2006 to April 2009 left ” some women are left not knowing whether they could have been in a different financial position, and whether they could have avoided the health and emotional consequences they claim.  We think that not knowing is an injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.

“We also think the anger and outrage complainants feel about not having as much notice of their State Pension age as they should have, could have been avoided if DWP had written to them when it should have.  Their sense of anger and outrage is a further injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.”

Changes just caused worry and confusion for some

Instead it found the maladministration caused worry and confusion and emotional stress.

This finding is crucial to the level of compensation – actual financial loss and bad health command a much higher level of compensation than worry and confusion. This finding is a real blow to those thinking they are going to get a meaningful pay out.

Finally the report exonerates the role of the Independent Case examiner (ICE) ruling out any compensation for people dissatisfied with its work.

“We think ICE should have said that it could not determine whether or not DWP had written to individual complainants who said they had never received a letter about their State Pension age, instead of telling them it was more likely than not they had been sent a letter.  But even if ICE had appropriately balanced the evidence in this way, we do not think the shortcoming in its handling of this issue was significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’”

Now there are two issues worth adding. The public statement from the Parliamentary Ombudsman completely glosses over the real meat of this report.

It says: We have shared the provisional views for the second stage of the investigation with complainants, their MPs, DWP and ICE. They now have an opportunity to provide comment.

It also promises to speed up the investigation and publish this report with its final report recommending levels of compensation, which has been welcomed by some MPs.

But remember you are reading this report one year before the Parliamentary Ombudsman wants you to know its contents. You now have an opportunity to comment on my website just like the organisations listed above.

Ombudsman report pulls the rug under the Waspi campaign

The second is the claim in the open letter to the two Tory candidates fighting to be PM. Now signed by over 15,000 people which asks people to pledge for a one off single payment:

” Our simple, pragmatic ask is that ministers open a dialogue with us about a one-off compensation payment to make up for the financial loss and emotional trauma caused to women born in the 1950s, as a result of the maladministration at the DWP in the period 2008-2012.”

The problem for all these people is that unfortunately for them the Parliamentary Ombudsman report has pulled the rug from under their feet- by ruling out compensation for financial losses.

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Coffey sneaks through tough plan to push 114,000 Universal Credit claimants into jobs while Parliament is in recess

Therese Coffey :Pic credit: gov.uk

The Department of Work and Pensions is to tighten the rules significantly to force 114,000 existing Universal Credit claimants into work as job vacancies soar across Britain.

She is changing the rules so far more people will have to go on what is known as an intensive work search regime where they will be monitored continually by work coaches on how many jobs they have applied for and why they didn’t get them.

Therese Coffey has been planning to do this since January this year and consulted the Social Security Advisory Committee, chaired by the architect of Universal Credit, Stephen Brien, on January 26.

Ian Caplan, DWP’s Director of Employment, Youth and Skills

A letter to the committee from Ian Caplan, director of employment, youth and skills said:

“The Secretary of State wishes to bring in the change as soon as practically possible…for providing immediate support to low-earning households to increase incomes at a time of immense cost of living pressures…. By bringing these regulations into force as quickly as possible, including by laying the regulations in recess, the Department can start making the operational preparations”

SSAC kept decision secret for 8 months

The committee approved the idea on February 4th but agreed to keep the decision secret until last week when it published the minutes of a meeting between DWP officials and the committee.

To make the change the government is using a regulation to uprate what is known as the Administrative Earnings Threshold – a device which sets the level of benefit and earnings dividing those who only receive ” a light touch” regime – ie occasional checks whether they are seeking work – from their local job centre and those put on intensive work search programmes. Those who refuse or don’t co-operate properly with face benefit cuts as a sanction.

It will move the level from £355 to £494 a month for a single claimant and from £567 to £782 a month for a couple. At present some 250,000 people covered by the intensive work search programme are in work – this will increase the number by 50 percent. The government justify it by saying the new level brings it into line with recent rises in the national minimum wage for those in work.

What is more interesting – and perhaps why the minutes were withheld – is the question and answer session between the committee members and civil servants.

While the overall aim of the scheme is to get a higher income for the unemployed – by getting them work or more work for those in part time jobs – the DWP admit they have another agenda. Questioned about the current job vacancies level encouraging this move officials said: “the vacancies position the labour market is considered by some to be hot which could be driving inflation.”

In other words by getting more of the unemployed into work, employers would have a bigger pool of labour and would not have to offer higher wages or even compensate people for the rising cost of living.

Will the unemployed be recruited as strikebreakers?

There may now be an even more compelling reason as Therese Coffey wants this to be law from September 26, since the government plans to use agency workers to break the coming strike wave. What would suit ministers would be if the unemployed could be drafted in as agency workers leading to confrontation with striking workers on trains, buses, schools, the NHS, and the post office with shouts of ” scab” and bringing the police in to make mass arrests of strikers. A reminder of the miners’ strike.

There were other gems from the minutes – which in my view revealed the attitudes of the DWP and committee members

There was much questioning about the effect this could have on 16-24 year olds which suggested the programme could work for them. There was concern about the disabled – and an admission by the DWP that except in Yorkshire it had done hardly any research on how this could affect them.

DWP building

What was tellingly missing was the complete lack of interest from the DWP or committee members about the effects on people over the age of 50 and 60. The DWP didn’t even bother to give the committee a breakdown on them. But it is a fact that the rising of the pension age to 66 -particularly among women has seen a big increase in numbers on Universal Credit who can’t get jobs.

I really wonder whether this is prejudice. Women like Therese Coffey, who is 50, have had stellar careers and I wonder if they think women born in the 1950s and 1960s who are on the dole are failures or nonentities, don’t cause them a lot of trouble and don’t turn physically aggressive like some men. So they can be safely ignored. Certainly any thought about their plight or indeed any old person was spectacularly missing from discussion about this new drive.

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DWP ignores the Parliamentary Ombudsman and refuses to compensate 118,000 disabled people hit by benefit maladministration

Worry precedent at the Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions has set a worrying precedent for millions of people hoping to get compensation if civil servants get their benefit and pensions payments wrong or don’t inform them correctly by refusing to pay them a penny.

The decision also shows up the weakness of complaining about maladministration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, in cases involving the ministry as it ignores his rulings.

The PHSO’s strong Youtube video on this case

This particular case involved 62 year old Ms U, who lives alone in London borough of Greenwich -one of the few authorities to still have a welfare rights service – who was on incapacity benefit and was moved on to the new employment and support allowance in 2012. This is aimed to be paid to people who cannot work because of severe health problems and is paid at two levels. The lower level is based on a person’s national insurance contributions and the means tested higher level which include premiums and access to other benefits like free prescriptions in England.

Ms U should have fitted into the second category. Ms U suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, arthritis, hypertension, and Graves’ disease an autoimmune condition. But she was wrongly put in the first category. As a result she lost access to free prescriptions and missed out in getting her home insulated under the Warm Homes scheme.

Ms U couldn’t afford to heat her home

Her representative said:” She could not afford to heat her property and could not afford to buy appropriate food to keep healthy. He said Ms U had poor mental health during that period and highlighted links between paranoid beliefs and depression and economic deprivation.

As far as her physical health was concerned, her hair fell out and she lost a lot of weight. Her representative said that since 2012, Ms U’s health had declined markedly: she had recently had a bypass operation, had deep vein thrombosis and poor blood flow in her legs and was due to have a toe amputated.”

Her underpayment went on for over five years from May 2012 to August 2017 before finally her arrears which then added up to £19,832.55 were paid. But she felt she was also entitled to compensation as the error had been committed by the ministry. The Ombudsman agreed in a report she had suffered an injustice and said the Department should pay her £7,500 compensation and interest on the lost benefit of over £19,000.

NAO report forced the department to find 118,000 other cases

She was not alone. An investigation by the National Audit Office found that some 118,000 disabled people had suffered the same fate prompting anger among MPs on the Commons Works and Pensions and the Public Accounts Committee at this huge error. Some £600m has had to be paid in arrears.

The Ombudsman also recommended that the rest of the 118,000 should also get compensation for maladministration and the department should take a proactive approach to deal with this.

It has now emerged that the department has refused to do this – despite the Ombudsman’s recommendation. I am indebted to Professor Robert Thomas at Manchester University and CEDAWinLAW who spotted this in a freedom of information request two days ago. See @RobertThomas223 and his tweet thread of August 5.

He said in a series of tweets:

“This issue is important because @dwp underpaid these people their benefit entitlements and many will have suffered injustice as a result. @PHSOmbudsman recommended that @DWP proactively compensate them. It refused. Affected people must approach DWP instead.

“But many people lack the confidence, stamina and knowledge to seek redress from government. Also, this is a largely vulnerable cohort of people. The result: unremedied injustice because of @dwp

“The underlying issue is, of course, money and almost certainly HM Treasury’s refusal to fund compensation. But the DWP can present itself as being fair: “anyone can contact us” while also knowing that few affected people will actually do so in practice. “

Sir Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee

Since seeing this I have contacted Sir Stephen Timms, Labour chair of the Commons Works and Pensions Committee, to see if, as they promised the Ombudsman, the DWP had alerted him to the decision. Initially he said he could not recall getting this and promised to investigate what has happened.

There is another big issue. This could impact on the Waspi campaign and the all party state pension inequality group of MPs to get compensation for women through a report from the Ombudsman. If after the Ombudsman says compensation is due the DWP follows this practice for the 3.8 million – six people will get compensation and the remaining 3.6 million still alive will have to write individual letters outlining their case to the ministry for any money due which will take even more time to resolve. You have been warned.

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