Universal Credit: Fear and Loathing for 2.9 million in the Poverty Trap

The government’s Universal Credit logo – the slogan is makes work pay. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Today the National Audit Office produces a timely report on the operation of Universal Credit and the impact on claimants of having to wait five weeks to get paid.

It comes when the numbers claiming the benefit has jumped from 2.9m to 6.1 million because of Covid 19.

The report investigates the plight of those needing to claim before Covid 19 struck and it paints a particularly bleak picture.

It is also relevant to the group of 1950s born women whose pension has been delayed from 60 to 66. As the Independent reported separately recently the rise of women making claims for such benefits – soared from 7,578 to 36,527 between 2013 and 2019 – and was almost three times more than men who are aged 60 and over.

Fear factor

What is alarming about the findings – which are an analysis by the NAO of the Department for Work and Pensions own figures – is that many of the people were too frightened to claim and delayed claiming for up to three months after they lost their job.

This damning point is raised in the report. It says:

“Our consultation with claimants and support organisations indicated
that a “fear factor” about Universal Credit is also likely to play a part in some people delaying a claim, or not claiming at all. This may result from people hearing about bad experiences from friends, family or the media, for example.
Some respondents told us they were worried about whether they would be able to cope during the wait.”

As a result the report says the DWP’s analysis of earning data ” found that almost half(49%) of households who claimed Universal Credit in the four years to mid-2018 had no earnings in the three months before they claimed the benefit.

Taking this into account and the additional five week wait to get the benefit this meant that many had to apply for advance payments to tide them over or go to food banks simply to get food to live which then had to be paid back by deducting it from the meagre universal credit they have to live on.

DWP headquarters in Westminster,London.

A particularly revealing table in the report puts together this bleak picture. It shows that an astonishing 80 per cent of all low income people starting to claim the benefit were in serious debt. Some 77 per cent had to rely on advance repayable payments. Another 34 per cent owed money to other government departments – often historic debts. And six per cent had third party debts,like unpaid council tax, child maintenance, rent and water arrears.

Nearly as badly off were claimants with a disabled child, disabled people and carers. Some 65 and 70 per cent had serious debts.

Now as the report shows this is against a dramatic improvement of paying the benefit on time from 55% in January 2017 to 90% in February 2020.

However, as the number of people claiming Universal Credit has grown, the number of people paid late has also increased from 113,000 in 2017 to 312,000 in 2019. In 2019 those new claimants who were paid late faced average delays of three weeks in addition to the five-week wait. Some 6% of households (105,000 new claims) waited around 11 weeks or more for full payment.

Universal Credit expansion delayed

The government has also limited the expansion of universal credit – delaying the final date of switching from other benefits from March 2023 to September 2024 at an extra cost of £1.4 billion to £4.6 billion.

Yet despite spending £39m to try and explain the new benefit to wary claimants the National Audit Office concludes the ministry has a communications problem.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: ” too often the most vulnerable claimants still aren’t receiving the money they are entitled to when they need it most.”  

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee. Pic credit: Twitter

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee said:

“This hard-hitting report on Universal Credit from the National Audit Office confirms the Select Committee’s concern that that the five week wait for the first payment causes ‘financial hardship and debt’.

” It provides further evidence that the initial planning assumptions for Universal Credit were naive. We now know UC will cost an extra £1.4bn to the public purse.  It will take more than twice as long to roll out as originally planned.  Far from reducing fraud and error, Universal Credit is driving historic record high levels – more than £1 in every £10 paid through UC is incorrect”

Neil Couling director general Universal Credit

There is one man who has done rather well out of all this. He is ” Mr Universal Credit” Neil Couling, who is in charge of the benefit at the DWP. According to the latest DWP accounts for 2019 he received a bonus of £15000 on top of a salary of between £150,000 and £155,000 a year. He has got pension benefits worth a cool £80,000.

He will be appearing before the Commons work and pensions committee next Wednesday to explain how well he has handled the benefit for the 2.9 million claimants.

Revealed: 32 years of benefit payment failure by the Department of Work and Pensions

DWP celebrating 32 years of inaccurate accounting

Yesterday while all eyes were on Boris Johnson’s ” Build,Build, Build ” speech the Department for Work and Pensions slipped out their annual accounts for the last financial year.

In what looks like a classic “cover up ” job to bury bad news, the ministry probably did not want the world to know that their accounts had been censured for material inaccuracy for the 32nd year in a row.

The reason is the failure of the ministry to be able to account for unacceptable levels of fraud and error in the huge number of benefit payments. Billions of pounds have been overpaid to claimants through fraud and mistakes by claimants and errors by officials. And billions of pounds have been underpaid by officials to claimants because they have made mistakes in calculating people’s benefits.

The latest figures are a record for every year since John Moore, was social security secretary under Lady Thatcher in 1988.

It shows that ” Excluding State Pension, the estimated rate of overpayments has increased again to 4.8% (£4.5 billion) of estimated benefit expenditure, from a restated rate of 4.4% (£3.8 billion).

“The estimated rate of underpayments, excluding State Pension, has decreased to 2.0% (£1.9 billion), from its estimated rate of 2.2% (£1.9 billion) in 2018-19. The rate of overpayments in 2019-20 is the
highest estimate to date.”

The worst benefit is the new hated Universal Credit which has suffered from both overpayments and underpayments and claimants have to wait five weeks before they can get it. Since the payment depends on claimants’ monthly varying income the scope for inaccurate reporting of the money is large.

The report says: “For Universal Credit, the estimated rate of overpayments increased from 8.7% to 9.4%. This is the highest recorded overpayment rate for any benefit other than Tax Credits (administered by HMRC), which peaked at 9.7% in 2003-04.”

“Underpayments rates have fallen for Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit, and the estimated rate for Housing Benefit has increased. Personal Independence Payment has the highest rate of underpayments at 3.8% of expenditure in 2019-20. This rate has not changed from 2018-19.”

But the small print of the report also reveals how the Department calculates this. It takes samples of benefit payments to arrive at these figures but the National Audit Office reveals that 61 per cent of the benefits paid out to claimants are based on recalculated estimates for the previous year.

Some other omissions are staggering. The Department has never checked whether payments are accurate for claimants on Disability Living Allowance for 16 years – last done in 2004-05.

More extraordinary the Department has never checked whether money paid out to 12 million pensioners is accurate or not since 2005 – that is 15 years ago.

Instead the department maintains there is no serious fraud or underpayments in pensions – calculating it as just £300 million out of an annual payment of £98.6 billion.

Given this year we had a case this year of a 94 year old pensioner being owed a staggering £117,000 because of 34 years of underpayments, I find this complacency mind blowing.

I also think the National Audit Office, as their auditors, is remiss in not asking for an update.

Next year’s estimate of benefit fraud and error is likely to even more out of kilter thanks to Covid 19 as the ministry have got rid of staff monitoring fraud to be able to pay out the 2.6 million claims for universal credit.

And although the department is said to be investigating 143,000 suspicious claims under Covid 19, it can’t follow them up because it can’t visit them at home.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said :

“I am concerned that fraud and error in benefit payments have risen again. Fraud and error have a real cost, both for those who face deductions from their income due to overpayments and because it reduces the public funds available for other purposes.

“As the Department takes on a set of unprecedented challenges arising from COVID-19 it is more important than ever that my qualification is not seen as business as usual and the Department responds in a cost-effective way to minimise risks of fraud and error.”

Next year I am certain will be the 33rd year the ministry accounts are questioned and found wanting.

My interview on Salford City Radio with Ian Rothwell on the latest injustices to 50swomen

My Interview with Ian

As it gets nearer to the appeal hearing brought by two members of BackTo60 on July 21 to recover their lost pensions from 60 to 66 I gave another interview tonight to Ian Rothwell, presenter for Salford City Radio, which has been covering the issue of the women’s lost pensions.

I make no apologies for raising again the extraordinary findings that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that 4.6 million men were able to get auto credits from the age of 60 for 35 years from 1983 to 2018.

The disclosure is all the more damaging because a central theme of the DWP at the court hearing was that the raising of the pension age from 60 to now 66 was an issue of equality to end discrimination against men – without disclosing the scale of auto credits given to men to cover their national insurance contributions.

Even now while many women born in the 1950s are suffering severe hardship by waiting for their pension, men have the opportunity, thanks to ex pensions minister, Steve Webb, raising the issue ,to claim back the money they lost if they had paid national insurance contributions while they were over 60 during this period.

The DWP may be able to claim that for some men they already had enough contributions so it was immaterial, or that some died or moved abroad before they could claim their pension, that misses the main point.

The main point is that there was much more of a level playing field between men and women than the DWP acknowledged at the hearing. Men needn’t have paid NI insurance even if they took a low paid job. And if they had an occupational pension and their wife had retired they needn’t have bothered to contribute any further to their state pension or even worked.

Anyway you can hear the interview at the top of the blog.

My piece in Union News: How grass root trade unionists are backing 1950s women to get back their pensions

Earlier Times: Unison delegation with Jackie Jones, BackTo60 campaigner and expert on the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The success of the crowdfunding appeal by BackTo60 campaigning group to run a series of films exposing the plight of 1950s born women yet to get their pension has been partly due to campaigning trade unionists.

As well as getting a large number of small donations from many of the women themselves, two grassroots campaigners from the trade union movement managed to raise an astonishing £3400 towards the campaign.

The full story is in Union – News today.

Mac Hawkins from Unison and Louise Matthews from Unite – both women’s officers at their local branches – and strong supporters of BackTo60.

Mac Hawkins got support from the Wales region of Unison and Louise Matthews got support from Unite’s Equality Team and Unite Companions.

But the key thing is how much money they got from their local branches Mac Hawkins raised some £1400 from her Caerphilly branch while Louise Matthews got support from her Unite branch in Southampton.

Tireless campaigners

Both have been tirelessly campaigning to get money for the films which will form a key part of keeping the issue in the public eye before BackTo60 appeal the judicial review decision on July 21.

The one sad thing in this story is that at national level in both unions there appears to be a cooling off in financing the campaign. Before the general election, Unison and Unite contributed to the campaign, and Unison came alongside BackTo60 to deliver a petition to Downing Street.

This time the national unions are still supportive – but possibly because of the divisions within Waspi on what they want from the government, they may be holding back.

BackTo60 is sticking with full restitution and compensation for all the 3.8 million 50s women – while some other Waspi groups still have to spell out exactly how much compensation they want.

Welcome to your new rulers: UK Commissioners Gove, Johnson and Cummings

Commissioner Johnson ?
Henry VIII: Pic credit BBC

The most famous rallying cry by the Brexit campaigners was ” Take Back Control”. The people who supported this saw it as simply meaning taking away powers from the unelected European Commissioners in Brussels and giving it back to the British people. It meant the sovereignty of the British Parliament to make laws solely for the British people.

Well a completely ignored report from the House of Lords suggests we are about to discover something altogether different. I wrote about this in Byline Times last week.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee – not a well known body – has done a forensic job examining every bit of legislation passed and going through Parliament to change the law after Brexit becomes a reality on January 1 next year.

These are not just the better known laws like the  European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 but new Acts of Parliament covering covering agriculture, money laundering, immigration, trade, taxation,reciprocal health agreements and even the granting of road haulage licences.

What this comprehensive analysis reveals is that far from Parliament getting new freedoms to introduce new laws for the British people the powers are being transferred from the European Commission to government ministers and indirectly to government advisers like Dominic Cummings.

What is happening is that the perceived rule from Brussels by Brexiteers is being replaced by a real rule by decree by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Henry VIII powers

How you might ask? The answer is the widespread use of what are known as ” Henry VIII ” powers – or more arcanely known as statutory instruments. These are orders allowing ministers to change the law by decree – either putting down an order which Parliament has 90 minutes to debate or a negative order that if MPs don’t spot it is already law unless Parliament can overturn it.

Now what the peers have discovered is that all these bills are littered with these powers – 40 in the agriculture bill alone – giving huge discretion to introduce not only rule by decree but powers to introduce new criminal offences with unlimited fines.

One extraordinary power governing export and import duties give ministers huge powers – including one to change the law by “ public notice” avoiding informing Parliament at all. This brings us back to Tudor times when all Henry VIII had to do was to pin up a notice ordering the dissolution of the monasteries..

Now why does this matter? Take the agriculture bill which will govern the rules if, as the US wants in trade negotiations, for us to import chlorinated chicken and according to recent reports to change food labeling laws in the UK. Now this bill in its initial form gave ministers a Henry VIII power to change the law for the marketing of food including what is on the label.

So if Waitrose followed what it said it will do and clearly label chlorinated chicken a government minister could just change the law by decree making it illegal to do so. And if Waitrose disobeyed they could face unlimited fines.

Now the bill has been modified a bit but MPs and peers ought to be careful that powers don’t sneak in by the back door.

150 new ministerial powers running to 174 pages

Another more obscure Act according to peers also gives huge powers to ministers.

The report said: “The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill involves a massive transfer of power from the House of Commons to Ministers of the Crown. Ministers are given well over 150 separate powers to make tax law for individuals and businesses. These laws made by Ministers will run to thousands of pages. The Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum, which sets out in detail all these law-making powers, alone runs to 174 pages.”

And ministers are also taking powers in some circumstances to override laws passed by the Scottish Parliament by government decree and to interfere in which already adopted EU case law can be decided by tribunals and lower courts.

Courts facing ministerial directions

The peers were incandescent about the latter.Their report said:

“The granting of broad ministerial powers in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to determine which courts may depart from CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) case law and to give interpretive direction in relation to the meaning of retained EU law was – and remains – inappropriate. 

“Each of these powers should remain the preserve of primary legislation. There is a significant risk that the use of this ministerial power could undermine legal certainty and exacerbate the existing difficulties for the courts when dealing with retained EU law.”

Now in my opinion because of the Covid-19 crisis the government is using this to introduce major changes to our unwritten constitution to bypass Parliament. I don’t blame my lobby colleagues for missing this – the 24/7 news agenda hardly gives them time to study a detailed House of Lords report.

It could be that a post Brexit Parliament may not need to sit as often as now – but just meet occasionally to scrutinise the latest ministerial decree.

I don’t think this is what the average Brexiteer will have envisaged. I don’t think the majority of people in this country want to live in a society where ministers and Downing Street have overweening powers to create new criminal offences by decree without being properly scrutinised by Parliament. We are losing our safeguards by stealth.

New Film: The triple whammy horror facing 1950s born women

Today Backto60 launched the first of two campaigning films in the run up to their appeal against the judicial review decision in the Court of Appeal on July 21.

They aim to overturn the judicial review which rejected their claim for compensation and full restitution of their pension back to 60 which was rejected on all grounds by judges. They have been given permission by the Court of Appeal to appeal on all grounds.

The film shows how 50swomen – already waiting up to six years for their pensions – are now hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- forced to work in unsafe situations in their 60s in hospitals or care homes or left isolated facing mental health problems.

We now know through a report from the National Audit Office,Parliament’s financial watchdog, that 25,000 people were moved from hospital to care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without any health checks for Covid-19. No wonder so many died and Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School, in the film condemns this as a disgrace.

The film quotes experts who have backed the campaign to point out how just how damaging the situation. You can follow them on Twitter here – @2020Comms @JackieJonesWal1 @ManzurHannah @DrDavinaLloyd1 @doctorshaib @NexusChambers @AnnaCCampaigns @SOS_Initiatives.

The overall picture is bleak – the combination of the pensions delay, austerity and now the virus- have made difficult lives even worse.

But there is also hope. Professor Jackie Jones points out that the UN Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination against Women – may well launch an inquiry into how badly the UK treated 50s women – shaming the country internationally.

The court case is likely to have to hear additional evidence on whether it was a really equal playing field if at the same time 4.6 million men over 60 are estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have had all their national insurance contributions paid by the government so they could get higher pensions. A government promise in the 1990s to extend this scheme to women for eight years after the change was introduced in 2010 was reneged on by the last Labour government and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The film directed by Jasper Warry at Hello Dear Productions is eminently watchable and the experts explain their points succinctly – my only apology is that you have to put up visually with me having a shaggy lockdown non hair cut!

Cummings cunning Whitehall revolution

Next month Boris Johnson is expected to have a Cabinet reshuffle. This will be his chance to mould his government’s image for the rest of the Parliament.

If he takes the advice of his chief of staff Dominic Cummings it will be another opportunity to throw a disruptive spanner in the works.

For Cummings is already on record as saying he wants big changes.

At an event hosted by the think tank IPPR in 2014, he was reported as saying: “The whole Cabinet Office structure and No. 10 structure is completely broken, [as] anyone who has to deal with it knows.”

Cabinet size “a complete farce”

The system had to change, he said, and the Treasury’s broken, while having a Cabinet of 30 people was a “complete farce” and should be whittled down to just six or seven key ministers.

Whether Johnson goes as far as this will be a matter for him but I would not be surprised to see some radical changes. And what changes he makes to the Cabinet will affect Whitehall. Since Parliamentary scrutiny through select committees is based on Whitehall departments , it would also affect the accountability of government.

As I wrote last week on Byline Times, the Whitehall revolution has already started. You can read the article here.

It began with the first Cabinet reshuffle after the general election when the former Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned rather than take Cummings diktat that he should lose all his independent advisers.

Marched out by armed police

That has already come back to bite him. As The Guardian reported one of his advisers, Sonia Khan, who was marched out of the Treasury by armed police, is taking the case to a tribunal as a sex discrimination case. Cummings dismissed her by phone for allegedly lying about talking to one of Philip Hammond’s ( remember him! he was the chancellor under Theresa May) advisers.

A judge ruled out an attempt by government lawyers to have Cummings name removed from the case – meaning he will have to defend himself publicly. There is a five day hearing put down for December. I would not be surprised if the Cabinet Office tries to offer her large sums of our taxpayer’s money to have it settled out of court to avoid embarrassment to the PM and Cummings.

Parallel to the denuding of independent advisers to the Treasury, Cummings has strengthened his position by appointing Vote Leave campaigner Alex Hickman as the PM’s adviser on business and getting Ben Warner, who worked with him at Vote Leave, as a special adviser in Number Ten. His brother Marc, has a controlling influence in Faculty, a high tech start up, which has already been awarded million pound contracts by the NHS to deal with Covid-19 without competitive tendering.

new permanent secretary

But Cummings wants to go much further in Whitehall. On 1 May, a US recruitment agency won a contract from the Government to headhunt a new permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – a ministry that will play a crucial role in building up Britain post-Brexit. The job is not being advertised internally as is the normal practice.

The New York based firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, is principally a high tech recruiter and its philosophy is pretty much in line with the Cummings credo. Its website is here. The firm believes that all organisations should be run like high tech companies not as bureaucracies.

“The organisations that don’t disrupt themselves are the ones that will be disrupted,” it states.

Cummings is a passionately in favour of the high tech companies – who often employ highly skilled computer savvy people on short term contracts and would like to see Whitehall remodelled along these lines.

In 2018, Cummings expanded his attack on Whitehall in a paper which predicted: “There will be a chance for a small group to face reality and change the political landscape with new priorities and a new approach to the whole problem of high-performance government.”

Permanent secretaries are key figures in Whitehall – the 40 or so are the people who glue together the system – providing leadership and setting the tone of their department. They also can hold ministers to account over unauthorised spending.

The new permanent secretary will start in September well in time to work on business post Brexit. He will act, in my view, as a Trojan horse, to change Whitehall for good if Cummings has his way.

Why Dominic Cummings, the Goddess of Chaos, won’t quit

The rare press conference in the garden of Downing Street at which Dominic Cummings explained why he was not going to resign over breaking lockdown rules

One of the extraordinary questions that have puzzled people is why Dominic Cummings – who has been in the centre of a storm over breaking Covid -19 lockdown regulations – has not been forced to quit.

Much of the speculation has centred round the PM’s weakness in not sacking him, despite over 90 Tory MPs attacking him, one minister resigning and widespread anger among the law abiding majority of the public. Even a collapse in Tory support has not led to it.

The answer has been staring people in the face. One of the issues I wrote in Byline Times – Dominic Cumming’s billion dollar brainbox – last week. While the pandemic was gaining pace, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, gave Dominic Cummings £800m, for a project about which he has been campaigning for years – the setting up of a Downing Street Advance Research Projects Agency. Sunak described it as a “blue skies funding agency”.Who would want to quit when they have received such largesse for a pet project that they have slaved over for years?

In 2018, he wrote a 47-page document concluding that a British ARPA would cover research into “machine learning, robotics, energy, neuroscience, genetics, cognitive technologies… and, crucially, funding what now seem ‘crazy’ ideas just as the internet and quantum computers seemed ‘crazy’ before they became mainstream”.

Scientists would be given millions of pounds for unaccountable projects – some of which will fail – with the aim of changing Britain forever.

He also wanted to scrap European data protection laws which allow individuals to refuse access to their personal data on privacy grounds when they go to websites – allowing extensive data mining for venture capitalists who will exploit the new products to make billions of pounds.

Now, the second reason he will not go is that he wants either a “no deal” Brexit or for Europe to capitulate to the UK’s demands, so that Europe is no longer an integral working single market.

Both proposals – the ARPA scheme and No Deal Brexit – are potentially dangerous because they will cause chaos.

But I think that is exactly what Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson want – in fact Cummings relishes it.

Both are intelligent men. Both have degree – level knowledge of the classics and ancient history.

Both will know about ancient Greek mythology. One of the most ancient Greek goddesses is the goddess of chaos. chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word. There is a useful website here about the ancient Greek history of chaos.

It says : “Chaos was the origin of everything and the very first thing that ever existed. It was a primordial void, which everything was created from including the universe and the Greek Gods. In ancient Greek, Chaos is translated as ‘the gaping void.’’

Here’s a simple YouTube video about it:

A simple Greek mythology guide to Chaos


chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word.

Cummings is now planning to create the UK’s own ”year Zero” with a modern twist – by leaving the EU after such a long time Britain will have start from scratch – and use modern technology to survive. His ARPA project will dictate where we go in the future.

The author Naomi Klein wrote about “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine, as described here.

Now Cummings, who spent 1994-1997 in Russia, is putting “disaster capitalism” theory into practice. And, of course, chaos serves the Russian political machine, just as it serves the extremes of Western free-market capitalism.

You and I might find this rather scary but for Cummings the chaos is his seventh heaven – a once in a lifetime chance to reshape Britain while disrupting everything that could be said to be stable.

And at the moment the ” Goddess of Chaos” holds a lot of the cards – his worshippers include most of the Cabinet who are required to tweet their support like a mantra from a Greek chorus. And the ” Goddess of Chaos” even has two altar boys – Conservative right wingers Tom Harwood and Darren Grimes – to do his bidding and explain away his faults.

There is a final irony. The last General Election was fought on the lines of the danger of a left wing Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn destroying Britain and creating “chaos”. The negative campaigning by the Tories and right-wing press worked.

But what we will have now is such a cultural and chaotic revolution under Cummings that will make any perceived threat from Corbyn look like a Teddy Bears picnic.

Exclusive: The 4.6 million men who “retired” at 60 to get a pension top up paid by the taxpayer

DWP’s extraordinary disclosure

Successive governments extended a 1983 “men only national insurance subsidy” for 35 years and broke a promise to women born in the 1950s to offer them similar terms

More than 4.65 million men aged over 60 have had the last five years of their national insurance contributions paid by the state, the Department for Work and Pensions has disclosed.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last week when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. She is a BackTo60 supporter and had been pursuing the government over this issue

The scheme was launched by the Thatcher government in 1983 when it was reeling from large scale unemployment even after its popularity had soared through victory in the Falklands War. Extraordinarily the scheme was only wound up in 2018 just two years ago and 35 years after it was launched.

Thatcher ‘s first government: Lord Carrington, foreign secretary, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe. Pic credit : BBC The Thatcher Archive

The scheme- called auto credits – was announced in the 1983 Budget by the late Sir Geoffrey Howe , then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as one of four measures to get down the unemployment count which was over three million.

In his March Budget he announced:

“Some 90,000 men between the ages of 60 and 65 now have to register at an unemployment benefit office if they wish to secure contribution credits to protect their pension rights when they reach 65. From April, they will no longer have to do this.

Even if those concerned subsequently take up part-time or low-paid work on earnings which fall below the lower earnings limit for contributions, their pension entitlement will be fully safeguarded. ( my emphasis)”

Unemployment did fall and was half that level by 2018 when the scheme was dropped.

Yet neither successive chancellors Nigel Lawson, John Major , Norman Lamont,Kenneth Clarke , Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling did anything to repeal it.

In fact under Kenneth Clarke in 1993 the opposite happened. He decided as 50s born women were going to face waiting longer for their pensions, they should get some help. This was adopted by Labour in a leaflet issued in 2002 on pensions which announced it would be extended to 50s women from 2010 when the pension age for women started to rise.

But the Brown government then reneged on this in 2009 after the financial crisis.

Promises to 50s women reneged

An explanatory memorandum to changes in pension legislation said :

“When the Government published its plans for state pension age equalisation in 1993, the intention then was that as women’s pension age increased gradually to 65, autocredits would become available to them on the same basis as for men. This was in part to compensate for the increase in the number of years women would otherwise have to pay National Insurance contributions for in order to qualify for a full basic pension.

” This approach has since been reviewed, for two reasons. Firstly, the qualifying age for Pension Credit (the income-related benefit currently payable to men and women at 60 without jobseeking conditions attached) is set to increase to 65 by 2020 in line with female state pension age. Without the proposed change, autocredits would increasingly apply mainly to people who could afford not to work or claim benefit….

“Secondly, the reduction in the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic pension to 30 and the improvements in the crediting arrangements for carers under the measures introduced by the Pensions Act 2007 will mean that the need for autocredits to protect state pension entitlement will be significantly reduced….

” This instrument amends the Credits Regulations to provide that autocredits will be available to men only for the tax years in which they have reached what would be pension age for a woman of the same age, up to and including the last tax year before the one in which they reach age 65. Men born on 6 October 1954 or later,…, will not qualify for the credits.”

This meant it was phased out in 2018.

Meanwhile the new Tory and Liberal coalition elected in 2010 decided to raise the pension age further to 66 and also planned a new pension raising the qualification period to 35 years. The main architect was the pensions minister , Steve Webb, who moved a top job at Royal London Insurance. In an article in the Telegraph in September 2017 he backed men who could have overpaid NI contributions to claim the money back. He is now a financial consultant with Lane Clark and Peacock.

Yet another scandal

Now this entire scandal is yet another example of unfair treatment to 50s women.

The woman who raised this with the DWP is one of a number who has not got enough national insurance contributions to get a full pension. She falls short by three years and will have to pay them £3000 to make up the years to get another £400 a year.

A man – one of the 4.65 million who was covered by auto credits- would have to pay nothing. That is hardly fair. And he could take a low paid job and still not pay NI contributions as they would be covered by the state.

More seriously it does knock a hole in the DWP case that the raising of the pension age was an equality measure to create a level playing field with men.

It is hardly a level playing field if men on this huge scale are getting their national insurance contributions for free. What started as a measure for 90,000 ended up helping 4.6 million. No wonder the DWP were not happy to have to disclose this.

Roll on the appeal to the judicial review brought by BackTo60. Michael Mansfield could have a field day with these new facts.

The damning FOI reply from the DWP that revealed the 4.6 million figure

The plan to put your health records in a computer cloud – the next expensive mistake by the NHS?

New World of NHSX doctor talking to patient once they have digitalised all patient records Pic credit: Gov.uk

NHSX, the new body behind the covid 19 tracing app,is planning a further IT revolution which will be a bonanza for multi national tech companies

Probably everybody remembers the fiasco under Labour to introduce a national computer system linking the whole of the NHS. The ten year programme which never worked properly was abandoned in 2011 after wasting some £10 billion of taxpayer’s money.

But now NHSX, the new body set up by the government in July 2019 without any Parliamentary approval and virtually no oversight outside the NHS, is planning a new national system to centralise NHS patient records.

I wrote about it last week in Byline Times following the publication of a report by the National Audit Office on NHS Digital.

Most of the press reports concentrated on the back story that the NHS was s in a digital mess and that a £8.4 billion programme under way to modernise the system had still not everything right- with 46 per cent of trusts relying on paper for patient records.

The real story was at the end of the report where the NAO raised a red flag about a plan to put everybody’s patient records in a cloud which has still not been fully worked out by NHSX.

It says NHSX is working on creating communication protocols known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which would go through different layers so they could transfer patients’ data from an individual health trust or GP surgery to a cloud. This is similar to people transferring their own personal data and files on their computer or smart phone to a Google cloud.

A NAO spokesman said: “The use of APIs with a data layer, is at an early stage. It does not have a clear scope yet, so we are unable to comment on its implementation, much less how it affects the Covid-19 response. But we note that other parts of government found similar approaches to be difficult and expensive.”

The NAO also revealed that unlike the first failed computer system – which was paid out of general taxation – the new cloud service will come out of general day to day running costs – which means if it goes wrong the cash will be taken from patient services and given to tech multinationals to solve the problems.

More seriously how safe are your records when this happens. Already NHSX has had the embarrassment of computer magazine Wired discovering they had left future plans for the app – publicly accessible through Google Drive – by mistake.

Image how you will feel if your personal health records were hacked and sold on to commercial interests.Or some computer error released sensitive infoirmation. This plan needs to be thoroughly scrutinised before it goes ahead. Or it will be a waste of money and a possible security risk to your sensitive personal information.