Firefighters and Judges win £5 billion pensions battle with the government

A victorious Matt Wrack points the way for firefighters to get justice Pic credit : FBU

The new government has suffered two major losses within days of winning the general election over economies made to workplace pensions in the public sector.

First on Monday judges won a victory which will benefit up to 1000 part time judges who lost out on their pensions when they moved from part time to full time work.

They claimed they while they were working part time they were being discriminated against by the government because they were denied pensions. The case had originally been thrown out by a tribunal because it was ruled ” out of time”.

However the Supreme Court, in one of the last judgments presided over by Lady Hale overturned this, and said: ” in the context of judicial pensions, a part-time judge may properly complain: during their period of service that their terms of office do not include proper provision for a future pension; and, at the point of retirement, that there has been a failure to make a proper pension available. “

The ruling could cost the government £1 billion.

Then a few days later after a long campaign by the Fire Brigades Union an Employment Tribunal ruled that following the government’s defeat at the Court of Appeal when current cuts in firefighters pensions were ruled as discriminatory the only remedy was that the pension scheme introduced in 2015 to impose such cuts should be scrapped.

The ruling will not only affect 6000 firefighters who would have had to save an extra £19,000 to offset such cuts but also applies to  schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces and the judiciary. This will leave the new government with a £4 billion bill.

A triumphant Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Last Christmas, we gave firefighters the gift of a victory in the courts. This year, firefighters can celebrate knowing that their union has secured their rightful retirement – a gift borne of solidarity that proves what unions can achieve.

“The law has now changed and our FBU claimants will be entitled to return to their previous pension schemes. Legislation will need to be amended, but there can be no delay in implementing this remedy. Firefighters were robbed, and they must now be repaid.

“To the new Tory government, let me be clear. We fought tooth and nail against your attacks on our pensions and won. If you dare to try to pay for these changes by raiding the pensions of current or future firefighters, we will come for you again – and we will win.”

Ministers had spent nearly £500,000 fighting the case which basically left firefighters on a two tier system – with substantially worse conditions for the latest recruits.

In 2015, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition imposed a series of detrimental changes to firefighter pensions, which included a built-in “transitional protection” which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme, which included a requirement to work until aged 60.

The victory shows once again that the courts can overturn decisions made by governments. Since this applies to workplace pensions rather than the state pension. sadly it is not a parallel case which would bring justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who have had to wait up to six years for their pensions. But it is another reason for them not to give up hope that they can convince the courts of the justice of their cause.

On Byline Times: Reflections on a watershed election and a progressive solution

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn at the last Queen’s Speech. Pic credit: Parliament.uk Jessica Taylor

As the dust begins to settle from last week’s election I have written an article for Byline Times on where politics should go after Labour’s defeat and Liberal Democrats failure to make a big impact. And also why Conservative victory is not as decisive as the Parliamentary arithmetic shows. You can read it here.

Election 2019: What is the best offer for 3.8 million pensionless 50s born Women voting on Thursday ?

BackTo60 outside the Royal Courts o Justice demanding compensation

Thursday’s election offers a defining moment for some 3.8 million women who have had to wait for up to six years for their pension.

None of the parties are offering full restitution for the women – which could still be won in the courts if the Court of Appeal gives permission to appeal the High Court’s dismissal of the judicial review bought by the BackTo60 campaign.

There is however a very big difference in what is (or not) on offer because we have an unexpected general election this week.

The most comprehensive and only detailed offer comes from the Labour Party.

The offer is not full restitution but for those born between April 1950 and April 1956 it promises substantial compensation. It is less generous after this tailing off altogether by April 1960.

The offer starts at £400 for those who lost the least and rises to £31,379 for those born around April 1955. It is a universal payment but is taxable.

John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, has promised both further negotiation with all the groups involved and early implementation. He has set February 5 next year – the date of both Labour’s or the Conservative’s Budget – for the full announcement. He also announced recently that repayments could either be at the rate of £100 a week over five years or an annual lump sum.

At the moment this is the only firm offer in town and he has been roundly criticised by the other two main parties for the cost of ther compensation which amounts to £58 billion over five years. Some Labour candidates want to go further and pay full compensation – notably candidates standing in Hemel Hempstead and Ian Duncan Smith’s seat in Chingford.

The Conservatives are offering nothing after Boris Johnson at first suggested he would look at it and then said it was too complicated to compensate people and he did not have the money to do so. All Conservative candidates have been told by the party not to pledge any money to help them.

The Liberal Democrats have also been critical with Jo Swinson, their leader at one stage denouncing Labour’s offer as offering ” something for nothing ” to 3.8 million 50s born women.

They do back a reference to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who is going to look at six test cases to see if compensation is justified. This will take time though and will certainly not be delivered in time scale envisaged by Labour. Any offer depends on whether the Parliamentary Ombudsman does think there has been maladministration.

The Welsh Nationalists-Plaid Cymru – say there is a moral case to back the women.

Adam Price, their leader said:There is a moral debt that is owed to these women … scrap Trident – that will save you £205bn … HS2 – there is a £100bn there – I’ve saved you £300bn – there’s money to spare for the WASPI women.

Intriguingly the possibility of abolishing Trident would come if a minority Labour government joined forces with the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists – who both have a commitment to abolish Trident while Labour at the moment do not.

The Scottish Nationalist Party have always had warm words for the 50s born women and do want them properly compensated. But they have failed, unlike Labour, to say exactly what they would do.

UKIP have not mentioned the plight of the 50s women at all.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party have a strong commitment towards 50s born women – they are the only party to support a special temporary measure offering full compensation. But they only have a tiny representation in Parliament – and have fallen out big time with the Conservatives over Johnson’s Brexit deal. Should Labour form a minority government, they could like the Nationalists, put pressure on Labour to improve their offer.

The Green Party have avoided a direct commitment to compensation but instead offered a basic pension of £178 a week and a supplement for lone pensioners.

It is your choice who you vote for – but if getting compensation is your main priority this election you should look very carefully at what is on offer and weigh up which party could deliver. It is a once in a lifetime chance to influence events.

Exclusive on Byline Times: Disappearing London voters as foreign buyers and new build AirBnBs flood neighbourhoods

110-112 Vauxhall Bridge Road; One of the AirBnBs block of apartments springing up in Westminster Pic credit: booking.com
The Surprise: This was the old pub that is now a new rebuilt AirBnb The original planning application was for it to be replaced by residential housing.

I have done a special investigation for Byline Times showing the extraordinary contrast between the decline of the electorate in Westminster and Kensington and the huge property and tourist boom bringing in non voting oligarchs, foreign buyers and purpose built blocks of AirBnBs.

This may have contributed to Labour winning Battersea and Kensington from the Conservatives at the last election. This time it is not so clear as Labour and the Lib Dems are vying for votes.

See my full story here.

Exclusive on Byline Times: MPs £8.4m second jobs and how Boris Johnson made a £1m in the last Parliament

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn at the state opening of Parliament. Boris Johnson made £1m including £800,000 from second jobs and speeches, Jeremy Corbyn nothing from a second income. Pic Credit: parliament.uk Jessica Taylor

Today I have published from a new database how much money MPs made from second jobs in the last Parliament with Boris Johnson top of the premier league of high earners. Read the full story in Byline Times here and see for yourself from a link to the database here. You can check your own MP.

John McDonnell explains the Labour pensions offer to 50swomen over more than tea and sympathy.

John McDonnell with Azhar Ali, Labour candidate for Pendle, explaining the offer to some of the women

For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package

There are a number of new points revealed in this video.

  1. Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
  2. The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
  3. Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
  4. Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
  5. He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
  6. Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
  7. Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
  8. Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
  9. He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
  10. Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.