The 3.3 million women “pensioners” who can’t get a penny from Theresa May

Today I am putting up on my website a  documentary film  released today made by the Backto60 campaign who have interviewed women now in their early 60s who suddenly found that they weren’t going to get their pension when they retired at 60. Some of them sadly have committed suicide, some have thought of committing suicide.

They are angry at both the coalition and present Tory government decided to change the pension age without any notice so they can plan. They are the people who have worked all their loves and brought up families, often sacrificing their opportunity to work. Some have even put extra money into their pension, only to find they won’t get it until they are 66.

The government shows no sign of giving in to them – in fact ministers like David Gauke, the  works and pensions secretary, have frozen other benefits instead- and if the Tories had a majority now would be pressing to end winter fuel allowances, free bus passes and the triple lock that guarantees pensions will  rise by 2.5 per cent a year.

There is a  contribution from Ken Loach, the radical film maker and pensioner himself, who made the searing film, I, Daniel Blake, about the trials and tribulations of being on social security after you have lost your job.

Exclusive: Are whistleblowers now too frit to reveal when NHS patients and care home residents are in danger?

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Dr Henrietta Hughes, 4 day a week National Guardian Pic Credit: CQC

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Tucked away in a recent National Audit Office report on the NHS and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, is the extraordinary statistic that the number of whistleblowers who tipped off the regulator fell by a staggering 16 per cent to 7452 in 2016-17. That is one in six fewer whistleblowers than the previous year. See paragraph 2.19 of the report.

The figure compares with 153,000 members of the public – an increase of one per cent – expressing concerns about services during the same period.

I have written about this in Tribune this week.

And the latest figures come after  a report by Robert Francis QC to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary,which was highly critical of the way some had been treated after they made a complaint.

In 2015, Francis reported widespread severe victimisation of staff by senior management when they spoke up for patients. Francis recognised that sacked whistleblowers are blacklisted and recommended a re-employment scheme but nothing seems to have come of it.

His most substantial recommendation was for a National Guardian to protect staff. This led the CQC to create a part time post with no powers. The first appointee, Dame Eileen Sills, quit before starting.

Since then Dr Henrietta Hughes . a GP has been appointed  as National Guardian, on a four day week. And according  to the CQC  yesterday marked her first year as the National Guardian for the NHS with the publication of her first case review report and her annual report highlighting the work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.

The one case review she published covered Southport and Ormskirk Health Trust which  has the unenviable reputation for bullying and discriminating against black and ethnic minority staff , a dodgy appointments system favouring some people against others and an attitude of not bothering when staff raise concerns about patients. This might sound familiar incidently for those who have followed my articles on staff practices at the Equality and Human Rights Commission but we should wait for the employment tribunals to see what happened there.

Dr Hughes has recommended a series of recommendations to put matters right – 22 in all – and there is promise from the interim chief executive of the trust, Karen Jackson, to act  with a new senior management team. We shall see. Also this was a trial – how many reports are we going to get from her in future?

The National Guardian has also produced a series of high flown documents which sound terribly good in theory – but again I think we should wait to see what happens.

What has happened so far is that the appointment of a national guardian has coincided with a drop in whistleblowers telling the CQC when things are going wrong.

What we do know is that staff do lose jobs are blacklisted and get the reputation of being troublemakers. There is a  website which covers 11 such cases here. All designed I suspect to cover up an NHS and care system creaking at the seams and not being adequately financed. I hope Dr Hughes does not turn out to be a convenient fig leaf for a service in trouble.

 

Exclusive: Supreme Court ruling opens way for legal action against Michael Gove and Liz Truss for racial discrimination and victimisation

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Liz Truss former Lord Chancellor Pic credit:BBC

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UPDATE: At a Press Gallery lunch in Parliament last week I raised the issue of the Supreme Court ruling and the potential case to be brought by three judges with David Lidington, the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.

He did not want to comment about the Supreme Court judgement or any pending legal action but he vigorously defended any of the judges from institutional racism. He said it would be against their ” oath of office” and  believed all of them would be  fair minded and ” in no way racist.” He did admit that the judiciary did not have enough judges from black and ethnic minorities and promised a ” mentoring programme” so more top barristers would come forward and become judges.

Michael Gove and Liz Truss, two former Lord Chancellors,  the former lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, six High Court judges and  heads of the tribunal services are facing lthe prospect of legal action for victimisation and racial discrimination by three fellow black and Asian  judges and a black former tribunal member following a ground breaking ruling by the Supreme Court. An article appears in this week’s Tribune magazine. the link is here.

The virtually unreported Supreme Court judgement last week, which involved interpreting an EU equality treatment directive, is seen by campaigners as removing immunity claimed by the Ministry of Justice, the Metropolitan Police, magistrates and tribunal bodies, barristers, solicitors, doctors and dentists disciplinary bodies, from the Equality Act when handling misconduct inquiries.

It will also apply to disciplinary hearings involving sexual and gender discrimination and disabled people.

The original case was brought by a disabled black woman police officer, known as Ms P against the Metropolitan Police. She claimed discrimination because of her disability during a disciplinary and misconduct hearing.  She had previously been assaulted and was then involved in an incident which led to her arrest. She claimed post traumatic distress syndrome following the assault had led her to act in this way.  The panel rejected her claim and she was dismissed immediately.  She appealed to an employment tribunal  saying she had been  subject to disability discrimination but it struck out her case because it ruled that the panel was exempt from the Equality Act.

Her case was turned down by the lower courts but they have now been overruled by the Supreme Court. At the hearing her case was joined by four black and ethnic minority organisations, Operation Black Vote, Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC UK) the Society of Black Lawyers, and The Association of Muslim Lawyers who asked for a ruling on civil law in this case.

pete rherbert caseThe ruling has had an immediate impact on four other cases involving racial discrimination and victimisation brought by three judges and a tribunal member that had been stayed at employment tribunals because the Ministry of Justice said it had immunity under the Equality Act.

These involve cases bought by Peter Herbert, a recorder and part time immigration and employment judge and chair of the Society of Black Lawyers; Daniel Bekwe,of African descent,  a former member of Croydon Employment tribunal; a district judge and an immigration judge, who plan to go public at a later date.

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Recorder Peter Herbert who is also chair of the Society of Black Lawyers. Pic Credit: Operation Black Vote

Mr Herbert said: “We met last night and decided that our solicitor will write to the Employment Tribunal asking for the stay to be lifted and the hearing re-opened following the supreme court’s judgement. We hope to get a hearing in December.”

Dianne Abbott, the shadow home secretary, is planning to raise questions with ministers on the judgement.

Groups were jubilant following the ruling. BARAC said: “Today’s important ruling we believe, means that Judges, Magistrates, lay tribunal members, barristers, solicitors, doctors, dentists, nurses and other professionals and office holders cannot be prevented from enjoying the full protection of the Equality Act 2010. We are writing to the MoJ and the Government to ask them to clarify all those professions where this ruling will apply.”

Lord Herman Ouseley, former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Chair of Kick It Out stated:

“There should be no hiding place in the form of judicial immunity for decision making bodies, decision makers and their processes enabling institutions to lawfully discriminate and not have these decisions challenged by those persons affected.
Too many attempts have already been made by the state to restrict access to and
therefore deny justice for individuals rightfully seeking to invoke the provisions of the
Equality Act 2010. No more denial of Justice”

Lee Jasper, former adviser to the Mayor of London on Equality, Chair of London Criminal Justice Consortium stated:

“The filing of an amicus brief indicates a renewed determination by British black organisations to embark on a focused legal strategy to achieve civil rights and equality. The notion of legal immunity from the Equality Act 2010 will now be the subject of intense legal examination. The black WPC at the centre of this case has been to hell at back at the hands of the Metropolitan Police, suffering the triple oppressions of race, gender and disability.”

“ Those involved in the suspension of Recorder Peter Herbert can now be exposed as exercising institutional white privilege,   as they had been given cover by the
Government relying on the misguided concept of judicial immunity to give licence
to institutional racism. ”

The decision  by the Supreme Court will have enormous ramifications for disciplinary panels. But there is also  extraordinary irony as well. This case could be appealed by the Metropolitan Police or the Ministry of Justice to the European Court of Justice.

But given the entire  stance being taken at the Brexit negotiations where the ECJ is a red line for ministers – it is the one thing that the government can’t do.

Meanwhile the Equality and Human Rights Commission has indicated it wants to make sure the government doesn’t sneakily change the law once we have left the EU.

EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said:”This case goes to highlight the importance of EU law in protecting fundamental rights. This is why we are pressing for amendments to the Withdrawal Bill to protect our rights under the Brexit process.”

A summary of the Supreme Court judgement is here.

London Midland admits it got it wrong over its passenger assistance service

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Rather a lot of stairs to go up or down if you are disabled or have a buggy at Berkhamsted station if the lift is out of order.

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London Midland has admitted that a ” breakdown in communication ”   meant it didn’t know that one of its stations was unstaffed, had a faulty lift and that its  emergency passenger help service didn’t work last Sunday.

The admission came in an email from the company in response to a complaint I lodged after being dumped at Berkhamsted with my disabled wife Margaret at the end of a weekend break from Liverpool.

I highlighted this in a blog earlier this week purely because I thought the situation was potentially dangerous and that train companies should be more careful in ensuring that their passengers can travel safely.

An email from Sarah Brassingham, a customer relations adviser, admits :  ” Unfortunately there was a breakdown in communication that meant that the team at Milton Keynes Central were unaware of the issues at Berkhamsted that evening, which were obviously compounded by the issues with the help point on your arrival.

Steps are being taken to address this with the stations and Passenger Information teams, and our Facilities team are resolving the issues with both the lift and the Passenger Information points as quickly as possible.

I can assure you that we take any assistance failures extremely seriously and apologise again for the inconvenience and distress caused.”

We have been offered a rail refund for the Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted journey but it does raise wider questions. One solution would be to ensure that whoever helps a disabled person  to get on the train informs the guard about the person’s destination – so if there is no one there the guard can help. at the other end But that still doesn’t get over the problem of faulty lifts or emergency help systems not working.

London Midland say their policy is ” Pre-booked assistance is provided by the station team at staffed stations and by the Conductor on board the train when the station you are getting on or off the train at is unstaffed.”

That raises another question. London Midland still has guards. If Southern get their way they won’t be any and presumably if they have any unstaffed stations disabled people won’t be able to get off the trains or be unable to travel.

That is one reason to back the RMT union case to keep guards on trains and fight the company and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, who want to get rid of them.

 

 

Can’t rely on London Midland:How staff cuts and technical failures dump on disabled and vulnerable rail passengers

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London Midland train

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This weekend my wife and I returned from a weekend in Liverpool where I had been speaking at a GMB Justice Campaign conference.

My wife is recovering from a stroke and we use the passenger assistance service to travel by train as she needs a little help boarding trains and avoids using stairs.

This weekend we got a good service when we boarded the train at midday on a Friday in Berkhamsted and a good service at London Euston  and Liverpool Lime Street on the way up and at Liverpool Lime Street and Milton Keynes where we changed trains on Sunday on the way back.

But the support fell apart when we returned to Berkhamsted just before seven o’clock on Sunday evening. I am writing about what happened here because it has wider implications for rail  travel and what steps rail companies take to protect people in an emergency.

Berkhamsted Station has recently installed lifts to aid the disabled, people with heavy luggage and families with pushchairs to get from the platforms to the subway below.

When we got to Berkhamsted  a town with 27,000 people) there was no one there to help my wife off the train and the lift was out of order. But it didn’t say it was out of order. Instead you could access the lift to go down to the subway. It just wouldn’t respond to go down to the subway.

Thinking this should be reported I pressed the alarm. Immediately I got an automated message saying ” don’t panic” and then the lift dialled an emergency number. There was no reply. I repeated the exercise still no reply. Luckily the doors had not closed or else we would have been trapped inside the lift until some one rescued us.

On the platform there is also an automatic system for passengers to contact someone should they need emergency assistance. I pressed that. Believe it or not I got message saying the number was unobtainable. So if say someone had been assaulted or sexually attacked on the platform – the emergency assistance system was faulty

When we eventually got off the station ( there is another roundabout route down a ramp through a station car park ) I found a notice on the ticket office saying there it had closed all day Sunday – so  there had been no staff at the station all day.

What has shocked me is that London Midland seem to have no ” duty of  care” to passengers – and their systems which are supposed to work when they are no staff – appear to be just there for show.

We did meet one member of London Midland  staff working that night – a man on the train from Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted checking tickets. So the company gave more priority to making sure it got all its revenue on Sunday for its shareholders and directors – than bothering to provide staff or checking that emergency procedures worked  to aid its passengers. And with plans to get rid of guards and close as many ticket offices as possible it can only get worse.

I have written to London Midland for an explanation and look forward to their reply.

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women’s equality in Scotland

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John Wilkes, now chief executive of the Scottish Equality and Human Rights Commission Pic credit:Third Force News

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Meet John  Wilkes. He is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland. The ECHR’s top campaign at the moment is fighting against  the discrimination  of women who take maternity leave from their jobs.

As the ECHR’s own research says on its latest campaigns website says:

  • Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.”

Great words. But they didn’t seem to reach John Wilkes before he took up his highly paid post at the ECHR in Glasgow.

Then he held the job of chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, a respected body. Now after the findings of a tribunal hearing in Glasgow ot appears to do more for refugees than its own employees.

And one of those was Petra Kasparek,who was employed as a refugee integration adviser, who became pregnant and took maternity leave. When she decided to come back to work she faced a gruelling interview which included responding to some questions she would have been unable to answer properly, and then declared redundant.

The man who stood in for her Stephen McGuire was also sacked.

But a ruling on 6 July by a Glasgow employment tribunal has ruled that both were unfairly dismissed and that Ms Kasparek suffered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.  Both are to get compensation amounting to thousands of pounds and the tribunal ordered Mr McGuire to be reinstated. The case was championed by their union, Unite, which even proposed ways to solve the dispute without sacking either of them.

But the most severe criticism comes in the tribunal’s view of John Wilkes whose knowledge of the law and procedures as a chief executive seems remarkably lacking for such an experienced official whose Linked In profile portrays him as a top notch executive.

The tribunal said that Mr Wilkes had “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s ( Scottish Refugee Council’s) policies and procedures.”He  had “a poor grasp of how some of the SRC’s actions were at variance with its formal policies.”

He  and the head of finance there also had”  a striking lack of insight and appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions.”

One of the points raised at the hearing from Mr Wilkes was that Ms Kasparek had not tried hard enough after leaving to get a similarly better paid job so she wasn’t entitled to compensation. In my view the man shows surprisingly little empathy or understanding of women who are looking after a baby.

The damaging point is  he is now in charge of Scotland’s Equality and Human Rights Commission policies including a campaign to help women being unfairly treated at work. One wonders how sympathetic he will be.

I put this to the Scottish EHRC and got a stock reply saying:

“John has brought to the Commission a wealth of experience, knowledge and dedication to our role in creating a fairer society and is making a valuable contribution to our work.”

I did ask whether Mr Wilkes had been sent on a retraining programme since his knowledge of  indirect discrimination under the Equality Act and other laws seemed to be rather minimal. But they told me they had nothing more to say.

Given the recent history of the EHRC in sacking disabled and black staff  I might have been asking the wrong questions. He will probably fit in well with the ethos there.

He is also not the only recent appointment to the EHRC from organisations that had discriminated against women on maternity leave.

 

 

Equal Pay,Unequal Misery: Unison and the Durham Teacher Assistants’ Dispute

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Durham teaching assistants at their protest meeting over the deal this week.

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The issue of equal pay for equal work is one of most enduring work scandals of our time. Women workers in particular lose out to men but it requires a lot of hard bargaining and money to tackle it.

The most dramatic current case is the long running Durham teacher assistants dispute involving over 2700 teaching assistants in Durham, mainly low paid women.

To implement equal pay Labour controlled Durham Council proposed cuts in  wages of up to £5000 for already low paid teacher assistants earning between £14,000 and £20,000 a year to bring it into line with other low paid workers they employed. The teaching assistants are the backbone of Durham’s schools, helping kids to read and understand basic numbers and when teachers fall sick deputising for them by taking classes.

The council and Unison, the union that is supposed to stand up for low paid workers, evidently were about to agree a deal that would worsen their pay and conditions when they faced a huge grassroots revolt from the teacher assistants themselves.

Feisty women workers called meeting, rallies, marched at the Durham gala and lobbied the sympathetic Labour leadership at last year’s Labour conference securing a meeting with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. They were even partly responsible for Labour’s poor performance in this May’s local elections which saw Liberal Democrats, Independents and Tories take seats from Labour.

Their strong action led Unison to change its mind and back them and give them some limited say in negotiating a better deal.

Last week in the middle of the Unison annual conference in Brighton the union claimed it had  negotiated a breakthrough.

UNISON Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Several months of tough talking later, a revised and improved offer has been proposed that will benefit the majority of teaching assistants.

“Strikes and relentless campaigning by dedicated teaching assistants, along with the support of the community, have been crucial in moving the council from its original position.

“Dismissing, rehiring and cutting the pay of so many education professionals would have risked many quitting their jobs. That would have had a huge impact in the classroom.

“Both sides have worked hard to reach agreement over the past few months. The union is absolutely committed to continuing to work with the council to secure the best possible outcome for everyone.”

However within days the promised deal which is based on a complicated regrading started to unravel once the 2700 teacher assistants got individual letters with new terms of employment.

This week a big meeting was called in Durham and the grassroots again began to revolt.

Megan Charlton, one of the leaders of the group, wrote in a blog that she will not be accepting the deal – even though she will get a pay rise in two years time.

She said: “472 Teaching Assistants – 22% of the workforce – will still be losing money. Many are losing £1200 a year, some are losing less, some are losing more (several on our facebook group are still facing losses of £4,000 and that’s AFTER they agree to the extra hours).

“We now have a situation where the vast majority of Teaching Assistants are required to teach at least one session a week. Surely teaching should be an ‘enhanced’ requirement, an ‘enhanced’ skill, not one you would expect from the majority of Teaching Assistants who came into the profession to do exactly that: to assist teaching, not to teach.”

She said if it had been just a ” few anomalies ” she might have accepted the deal but clearly it wasn’t. It will now go out to a ballot.

Durham County Council responded to my inquiry:

The council’s corporate director of resources, John Hewitt, said: “Throughout this process the issue for the council has been the risk of equal pay claims caused by the current teaching assistants terms and conditions.

“To mitigate the equal pay risk, and to ensure that assistant’s job descriptions and grades are appropriate for the work they do, we have  worked really hard with trade unions, teaching assistants and head teachers on a fundamental review of TAs responsibilities and roles.”

“The outcome of that work is that, if accepted, the vast majority of teaching assistants will see an improvement in their financial position after the compensation period.”

To its credit Durham County Council has withdrawn its threat to sack and rehire all the teaching assistants on inferior terms. The problem the teacher assistants have is with their union which they believe rushed into the deal to announce it at its annual conference without checking the full terms.

I wanted to put this to Clare Williams, the regional secretary, and a supporter of ” Team Dave” during the last election but she declined to come back to me.

But it seems to me that  Unison has been too ready to accept this deal and has sold out some of its low paid members without pressing for  further improvements. For them it is  a real loss of cash from a low salary . An equal pay deal has resulted in unequal misery for a fifth of the workforce. And it has been negotiated by a well paid official earning at least three times the money of the lowest paid teaching assistant.