My Blog in 2018: Year of growth

50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

To my surprise the number of hits on my blog soared to a new record of 464,000 this year- up by over 350,000 from just under 100,000 last year.

This huge increase was almost entirely to the support given by this blog to the plight of the 50s born women who are facing up to six years delay in getting their pensions.

I was persuaded by Joanne Welch, director of the BackTo 60 campaign – who I knew from previous work she had done in helping the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse – to investigate for the energetic campaign whether the government’s reasons for raising the pension age from 60 to 66 were justified. I found they were not on all counts from money, longevity to equality.

The result was a blog which revealed that a decision taken by the Thatcher government in 1988 – as much as £271billion had been denied to the National Insurance Fund – by the abolition of the annual Treasury grant and later limitation of grant payments by successive governments. This post attracted a phenomenal 188,000 and more hits. It still is attracting new readers today.

Subsequent blogs on the subject attracted 14,500, 19,000, nearly 31,000 and over 33,000 culminating in over 56,000 when – against the odds- the 50s women with the help of Michael Mansfield QC won permission for a judicial review. The blog telling you how you can boot out your MP if he or she won’t support the campaign – attracted nearly 31,000 hits – and led to an amazing 4,600 hits on the House of Commons library reference paper which gave a constituency by constituency breakdown of where the affected women live.

Thanks for the deluge of Christmas greetings from so many 50s women this year supporting the blog and my work.

Gosport

The other main achievement this year which I can’t blog about – as I was member of the independent panel- was the report on the scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital where at least 456 elderly people had their lives shortened by the over prescribing of drugs. I am very proud of this report and the amazing professional collaboration led by former Bishop James Jones, who chaired the panel inquiry, that produced the findings hidden from people for nearly 20 years.

mental health

I also this year worked with the extraordinary Professor Suman Fernando, who at 85, is a tireless campaigner for mental health reform and author of a book outlining the history of racism in psychiatry.

I was a member of a working party which tried – with only partial success – to influence Theresa May’s planned reform of the mental health act. They were particularly exercised by institutional racism in mental hospitals which sees a disproportionate number of Afro-Caribbeans sectioned every year and some appalling examples of deaths in police custody. The mental health service is in a pretty bad state anyway.

I am unhappy about the outcome and will blog about this later.

domestic and sexual abuse

Last December I was invited to attend a national conference hosted by the BBC on domestic abuse and addressed by leading figures in government, the ministry of defence and Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how employers could help people suffering domestic abuse.

This campaign was led by Elizabeth Filkin, another tireless campaigner and a former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I blogged about it last December and was reminded this Christmas again when I willingly agreed as part of a libel settlement with John Hemming to donate £500 to the Victim Support charity and got it earmarked solely for dealing with domestic abuse.

There also was a great story of hope for child sex abuse survivors when a former victim who successfully saw his abuser jailed for 33 years for crimes committed in North Wales decades ago set up a successful volunteer project in Cumbria to tackle the issue of child sex abuse. See here

fire engine scandal

This year has seen a very gratifying outcome for those who followed the scandal over the privatisation of London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines which led them to be handed to a bunch of spivs who milked the contract for personal gain.

I have been following the story since 2011 when the Fire Brigades Union raised the issue of Assetco taking over responsibility for maintaining and replacing London’s fire engine fleet.

This year the Financial Reporting Council caught up with former Assetco directors John Shannon, Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle and barred them from practising as accountants for 16. 14 and 12 years respectively. They were branded fraudsters and liars for the way they handled the firm’s accounts and the Serious Fraud Office has been passed their details. The blog got over 4000 hits.

The accountant from Grant Thornton who supervised and passed the fraudulent accounts has also been fined along with his firm.

lack of reporting

The one common theme in all these stories – with the major exception of Gosport – has been the paucity or non existence of coverage in the mainstream media. They have been diverted by wall to wall coverage of Brexit but I think it reflects the fact of an increasing reluctance to put resources into proper investigative journalism. The country will be a far less informed place if this continues and it will give a green light to those who think they can get away with bad practices, incompetence, maladministration and fraud and ruin the lives of ordinary people without any proper scrutiny.

Happy Christmas and thank you

The first Damascene rose donated by the Bulgarians flowers in Golden Square

Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a great New Year.

Special thanks to the growing number of people who have followed this blog including the #50s women whose cause to get back their pensions this blog supports. I hope you are successful next year.

The picture here is symbolic of the need for people to come together rather than grow apart. It is a picture of a Damascene Rose planted by Bulgarians in a London square as a thank you to our nation. They have come to work in Britain and contribute to our community and wanted to show the friendship between our countries. In these days where hate and division appear to be on the rise, it is a welcome antidote to the prevailing trend. It is also fitting for this time of year . It is part of the Christmas message of goodwill and peace to all people.

Britain’s nuclear future: Doomed by its own contractors and skill shortages

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Britain’s  £70 billion nuclear programme is in serious trouble. Contractors have either started or are threatening to pull out of four planned nuclear power stations.

There is also huge recruitment crisis to get enough trained  staff to build them in the first place.

The country could literally be on the blink as 14 out of the 15 existing nuclear power stations  are due to close by 2030 – drastically reducing the current 21 per cent share of  electricity generated by nuclear power.

They were due to be replaced by eight new nuclear power stations – but only one is currently under construction by the French nationalised energy firm EDF  – at Hinckley Point in Somerset. And that may well miss its 2025 opening deadline.

In the last two months  while Brexit dominated the news three unrelated announcements have drastically changed the situation for the worse.

Plans for a new nuclear plant at Sellafield in Cumbria – called Moorside – have been scrapped by Toshiba which has decided to pull out of the UK development. The company failed to find a buyer for the project.

And meetings are being held by Hitachi to consider abandoning its plans to build a £16 billion nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey – only six months after the UK agreed to pump £5 billion of taxpayer’s money into the project to keep it going. Hitachi’s share price went up on the announcement of a possible pull out.

The decision also puts at risk two other projects by Hitachi in Oldbury, Gloucestershire leaving Britain mainly relying on the Chinese to build a new power station in Bradwell, Essex and help develop a new power station at Sizewell.

Huge recruitment crisis

Meanwhile a damning report has been produced by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, an employer led organisation, which includes representatives of government, the unions and a representative from China. It shows that the UK has an enormous skill shortage of available engineers and could face an “age related cliff-edge loss of current skills and experience” as well qualified staff reach retirement. Many of the current experienced staff are in their 50s and 60s.

Although written up in an upbeat way the strategy also signed off by three government ministers in the business, defence and education departments makes grim reading. The link to the report is here.

 It says to recruit the 100,000 skilled people to build the new power stations it will be required to double existing recruitment as it has a 50 per cent shortfall.

Among shortfalls are electrical and civil engineers, safety experts, emergency planners, control and instrumentation experts,project planners and regulators. In basic construction there is a shortage of scaffolders and concrete experts.

 The report says: “Even where there is a large national pool from which new staff and trainees can be drawn, recruitment, attraction, and retention factor heavily in determining available supply. Remote locations, competing industries, and the lack of practical training opportunities can all affect workforce availability.”

 The problem is also being made worse by Britain leaving the EU which could hit skilled people from other EU countries taking up work and also affect nuclear research.

The report reveals that the shortage also extends to the military. The UK is committed to replacing Trident.  Yet will it have the people to do it.

There is growing collaboration between the military and civil nuclear industry with new initiatives set up in Cumbria and  at Hinckley Point and they are even desperate enough to want to shorten security checks to attract new staff.

Will nuclear survive?

 Britain’s civil and military nuclear expansion and modernisation has been under attack by Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for decades. It would be the ultimate irony if the programme closed down because the contractors walked and Whitehall ran out of the money it needed to subsidise them. There is a real danger of this happening now.

Statement

 

On 18 May 2018 I published an article entitled: “Esther Baker case: How the child sex abuse inquiry itself abused survivors’ trust and privacy”.

Mr John Hemming, who is referred to in a determination of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which I quote in my article, has since instigated legal proceedings against me.  Mr Hemming alleges that the article is defamatory of him and suggests that certain passages of that article imply that he is guilty of raping Esther Baker.  That is not what I intended the article to mean. My article was primarily about a determination of the IICSA which decided that allegations made by Esther Baker would not form part of the ‘Westminster investigation’ of that Inquiry.

I recognise that Mr Hemming has never been charged in connection with the alleged sexual assault of Ms Baker and that the CPS decided in September 2017 that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of any suspect in this case.  That was not made clear in my article but I am happy to make this clear now by way of this statement.

In my article I also stated that there was no police investigation into whether Ms Baker perverted the course of justice.  Based on a more recent determination of the IICSA dated 19 November 2018, I understand that on 6 November 2018 Staffordshire Police wrote to the IICSA to state that an individual (who I understand to be Mr Hemming) had met with their officers at the end of June 2018 to indicate that he had further information in relation to his complaint that Ms Baker had perverted the course of justice (the police having already decided that no further action would be taken against her).  The letter said that Staffordshire Police were “investigating the nature and content of the further information” provided by him and were “not able to comment further as it was an on-going investigation”.  These matters took place after the publication of my article.

Mr Hemming and I have reached a settlement in respect of his claim against me, a term of which involves the making of this statement.

For those wanting to see the  original article the link is https://davidhencke.com/2018/05/18/esther-baker-case-how-the-child-sex-abuse-inquiry-itself-abused-survivors-trust-and-privacy/

 

Permission granted: 50s Women win historic case to judicial review on pension rights

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50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

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A High Court judge  yesterday gave the Back To 60 campaign permission to bring a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions over the raising of the pension age  for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.

The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.

The ruling by the 63 year old judge obviously stunned the Department of Work and Pensions whose barrister, Julian Milford, asked for  66 days ( instead of the normal 14 days)  to prepare a fresh case against Back To 60. They were granted 42 days.

The  ruling means that a future  hearing BackTo60 have the right to argue their case that the government’s decision which affected the 3.8 million  women was both  a matter of  gender and age discrimination. In addition they can argue that the total failure of successive governments to review the arrangements to look at the hardship faced by many of the people made  matters worse.

As is stated on the lawyer chambers site:

” the taper mechanism used to raise the date on which women receive state pension, in combination with a failure to properly inform women of the changes was unlawful because it discriminates on grounds of sex, age and sex combined and age.”

Catherine Rayner told the judge that there had been no fewer than 60 changes to the date  when a 50s woman could get a pension  and that the main driving force for the government was to save money. She said the equivalent of £5.3billion had been taken from this group of women. She described it as an ” historic inequality ” which was made worse by the lack of knowledge among the women themselves  because the government never informed them directly about the changes.

Julian Milford for the DWP, admitted that this was part of a cost saving for the government but also said it was about equalising the pension age between men and women.

He argued that there should be no judicial review of this because it was about primary legislation which had been widely debated in Parliament in 1995 and it was far too late to call it into question.

He also argued that a ruling by the European Court  of Human Rights which meant that pensioners who had retired to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were not entitled to uprated pensions meant that the women had no case to ask for a judicial review about changing their pensions.

Both these points were rejected by the judge who said that even though the act was passed 23 years ago the fact that its impact was causing problems for the women now meant  the review could go ahead.

The government also revealed that the private pensions industry is  uneasy about the women winning their case because it could force them to pay out occupational pensions five years earlier to some women – if their contract with companies meant it was payable on the day they could collect their state pension.

As the 7BR website says:

“The hearing will allow a detailed examination of complaints made by made by women born in the 1950s, and championed by groups such as #backto60 and WASPIE, as well as their political representatives. The case raises legal questions about sex and age discrimination in the mechanisms chosen by government to implement a policy; the responsibility of Government to inform people of significant changes to State Pension entitlement and of the applicability of the EU directive on Equal Treatment in Social Security provision.”

My view is that it has significant implications for Westminster and Whitehall.

It means that a judge has quashed the views expressed by financial commentators  like  Frances Coppola and other people connected to the private pensions  and banking industry that there was no chance of a judicial review. It has also called into question the arguments they used over primary legislation and the  ECHR court ruling.

It will add to pressure on the Labour Party leadership to promise to do something for these women whose cause is championed  by Laura Alvarez, the partner of Jeremy Corbyn, and whose shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is well aware of the issue, and predicted the women would win a review.

It will put enormous pressure on Amber Rudd, the new works and pensions secretary, who is already having to cope with the backlash over the mess caused by universal credit and will now have to seriously address the plight of the 50s women. It is also a  blow to the reputation of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who all but nearly misled Parliament by telling them that the judicial review had already been rejected.

And I am afraid the All Party Group on State Pension Inequality for Women in Westminster will have to buck their ideas up and come behind this review rather than seeking small sums of compensation for the affected women.  By taking this radical stand  and going for the jugular BackTo60 have shown the way. They have not won yet but they have got much farther than anybody thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Summer Time: The next new EU row for Theresa May

Theresa May about not to enjoy a row over summer time Pic Credit: Articular/ Freepik

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As the UK and the EU come to a deal on the withdrawal of the country from the EU the practicalities of the arrangement are about to rebound on Theresa May.

The European Commission  are planning  a new directive that will affect everyone in the UK and Ireland and from March 29 when the UK ceases to be an EU ” rule maker” and becomes a ” rule taker” it can do nothing about it.

The EU want to change our time. They want to standardise time across all countries by abolishing the move in the UK from Greenwich mean time to summer time – keeping the same hours for the whole year. While the EU will still respect different time zones – Brussels is normally one hour ahead of the UK – it no longer wants any difference  between summer and winter time. The UK could decide to adopt permanent summer time but this has proved unpopular in the past.

And one of the byproducts of this is that Ireland could have two time zones if Britain doesn’t agree -a sort of new ” time border” that because of the complexities will mean some farms that straddle the border will be working in two time zones.

Not surprisingly the UK does not want this. But with all the excitement about  the enormity  of Brexit we are not going about making our views known very well.

The future of this massive change – which would mean darker evenings and  lighter mornings – has been left to the most junior of ministers, Kelly Tolhurst, the MP for Rochester and Stroud and a Parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of Business. She has only been an MP for three years and a minister for just six months.

And the only discussion about this in Parliament has taken place at an obscure committee meeting a week or so ago where she did not particularly distinguish herself.Parliament has passed a resolution without debate in the chamber objecting to the move – but who in the EU will think they have to take much notice.

It has arisen because since 1980 the EU has had some  competency to  regularise time to help business and now wants to extend its role to end the ritual of clocks going forward and backward across the EU.

The pressure has come from the Germans, the French and the Austrians who, according to a survey, are fed up with changing the clocks twice a year.  The UK, it emerged, had objected at a meeting in Graz in Austria and has so far got the support of Greece and Portugal.

But time, no pun intended here, is running out. A decision will be taken in March and implemented later next year during the transition period when the UK has to accept all new EU rules.

Worse though was the reaction from the minister to telling the people of the UK about what is under discussion.

She came under repeated questioning from MPs, notably Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, and Michael Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, to launch a consultation about the changes. But she refused to do it.

” Currently we do not intend carry out a consultation. We are working with other member states to block the proposal. Obviously, we will respect the implementation of EU rules while we are still a member but at this moment in time we do not want to consult because we are fundamentally against the proposed clock changes.”

This extraordinary position was even worse for Northern Ireland which could find itself in a different time zone to the Republic because Stormont is suspended she is not even proposing any guidance.

Instead she insisted that the UK  would be successful in blocking it – ignoring the fact that after March 29 the UK won’t be in a position to do so.

Patrick Grady, SNP MP for Glasgow North, pit it succinctly: ” Once we leave the European Union—if the United Kingdom finally leaves—there will be nothing to stop there being different time zones across the island of Ireland, because the United Kingdom will no longer be in a position to have the kind of influence that the Minister has been speaking about, to work with other member states to come to an agreement that this is not necessary. Once we are out, we will have no say in those discussions whatsoever. ”

So I predict a  perfect storm after we leave. The only way we can stop it – if you are a Brexiteer is to press for a ” no deal” situation. The only other way to stop it is if you are a Remainer is to stay in the EU and demand a derogation from the decision which is perfectly possible.

The one way to be forced to do this is Theresa May’s present solution  which leaves UK as a ” rule taker” rather than a ” rule maker”. This I suspect will be the first of many issues that will cause massive problems. And changing our time affects everybody in the UK. For those who want the full details of the debate here’s the video of the European Committee meeting on November 12 that discussed it, courtesy of parliamentlive.tv

Exclusive: Amber Rudd faces new challenge over maladministration of the raising of pension age from 50s Women

amber rudd

Amber Rudd- the new work and pensions secretary and MP for Hastings

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Two supporters of the BackTo60 campaign have got professional legal support to challenge the government for maladministration over the failure to notify them over the raising of the pension age.

The fresh challenge is in addition to the hearing next Friday at the High court to decide whether BackTo60 can challenge the government through a judicial review.

Pensions Litigation lawyer Mr Ivan Walker (Principal of Walkers Solicitors based in Kent) has agreed to advise Fran Martin and Ros Pain-Tolin  who, are two of the lead cases of 1950s Women. They have got to the final stage of presenting their case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Mr Walker recently represented the members of the Lloyds Bank pension schemes in a landmark High Court claim regarding sex discrimination in the system for contracting out of the State Earnings-related Pension Scheme.

The move is significant because professional legal advice is essential in bringing such a  case. The women are launching a crowd funding appeal  to help finance the move.

The link is here. Go onto the crowdfunder site here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/search/projects?filter%5Bc%5D=&filter%5Bt%5D=pending&filter%5Bs%5D=

Search live projects and put in 50swomen and then you will get to the site. For some reason this direct link does not work

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/maladministration–legal-advice-for-1950swomen

Both women have faced enormous and heart rending struggles to cope since the government pushed back the right to claim a pension from 60 to 65 and it is going up to 66 by 2020. Their struggle is typical of many others who have commented on this blog and have been left with virtually nothing to live on.

Fran Martin told me :

“I received a letter in 2013 from DWP – which indicated that I had a 6 yr hike added to my SP age – This was received 2 years before my 60th birthday in 2015. I was totally shocked and still am.

“I have gone from an optimistic cheerful forward thinking person to a virtual recluse with all the incumbent stresses and strains that this places on other family members. Health has deteriorated too, with high blood pressure, diabetes and anxiety being I feel part and parcel of the result of being misled at what is a vulnerable time in anyone’s life..”

Sleepless nights have become the new norm and even whilst now prescribed sleeping tablets I can still be wide awake at 4 or 5am with worry for a very bleak future if even that exists, I’m not convinced it does.”

She became redundant in 2015 and then saw her plans for a happy retirement ruined.

” I had purchased a retirement cottage in 2008 in Aberdeenshire completely unaware of any state pension Legislation. and which DWP treated as capital – Forced in Dec 2015 to put the cottage up for sale – but with no work and no one coming into Aberdeen to rent, to date the cottage is still on the market. and have costs for the upkeep of same and the flat that I live in Aberdeen.

” I am ineligible for any benefits as the DWP class the cottage as capital. I was also forced to draw down a small private pension in 2015 at the worst possible times for annuities, and use this and small savings to eek out a bleak existence – Dependant to on a mother in her mid 80’s which quite frankly I never thought I would have to be and obviously places stress and worry on her too.”

Ros told me: “I always expected my State Pension to be at 60 in 2015. I never received a letter. ICE  ( who handle pension complaints)say that one was ‘probably’ sent in Feb 2012, but they did not keep any ‘case specific’ records so cannot confirm.”

“I only have a small works pension that I had taken early. I also a degenerative back condition which causes me pain most days and I  suffer from Asthma.

I really don’t know how I would manage at all, if I didn’t have my husband and his Pension to rely on as well. He is now 70 with his own health issues. My Mother almost 95 has also given financial support over the last few years.”

Both women are determined to fight the system so Amber Rudd in her new role  as work and pensions secretary better look out as a storm is gathering not only from them but from millions of other people who feel they have been robbed of their state pension when they should have had it.