Exclusive: Case for Judicial Review for BackTo60 challenge to government on pensions set for November 30

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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The High Court is to hear the case for a judicial review into the government’s mishandling of the raising of the pension age for 50s women on November 30.

The court granted a two hour hearing today.This means that Michael Mansfield and his team will argue the merits of the case for a judicial review.

The Department for Work and Pensions will oppose any judicial review.  The judge  will decide whether it can go ahead.

The granting of a two hour hearing  is significant in the sense that the court has decided that the merits of both sides of the argument  must be examined thoroughly. Previously the court had thought that 30 minutes was enough to hear the arguments – suggesting that it could be turned down without much debate.

The announcement is a victory for the lawyers arguing the  case and for BackTo 60 in taking such an uncompromising stance. The government has so far refused to budge an inch in recognising the grievances of the 3.8 million women who have lost out – some of them living in dire poverty as a result.

The case will be backed up by the paper from Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of the West England She has produced the report,  which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international  convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.

 

The day the women fighting for their pensions brought Westminster to a standstill

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50s women reclaiming the street outside Parliament

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A decade ago this would have made headline news. Hundreds of  50s women deprived of their pensions until they reach 65 or 66 blocked the road in Parliament Square for over an hour yesterday. The police – just five of them – had to divert traffic away from Parliament as they sang slogans deriding Theresa May  from ” We paid In,  U Pay Out ” to ”  Hey, Hey, Theresa May, Theresa May, how many women who have you robbed today ” in an extraordinary display of anger at successive governments decisions to raise the women’s pension age from 60 to 66.

The noise  from the vibrant  demo drowned out irritated van drivers, bus drivers and motorists tooting their horns as they were stuck on the one way system round the Square. But the women were more than a match for the motorists, the police and certainly are making an impact on MPs.

The decision to block the road was not planned  and taken spontaneously by some of the protesters and led to a traffic jams right up Whitehall. Even Fiona Bruce, the BBC newscaster had to flag down a passing police car to get to Millbank to present the six o’clock news.

The protest  began with a 1000 strong rally in Hyde Park bringing together Backto60, Waspi and the ” We Paid In, U Pay Out” groups under a #One Voice and ” shoulder to Shoulder ” banner. Groups from as far away as Aberdeen, Cornwall, Wales, Tyne and Wear and Derby came to London to voice their anger.

It has got the backing of the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Equality Party and the SOS Initiatives  who have highlighted the desperate plight of the women , some of whom have contemplated suicide or self harm.

What was  clear at Westminster is that it is attracting support from senior people in the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, the two biggest opposition groups in Westminster. John McDonnell’s office sent over a senior researcher and unless I was mistaken, Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps a low profile but I would bet will be telling the Labour leader about the strength of feeling there.

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Chris Williamson examines the Derby Waspi banner

Other Labour MPs there included Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for  Derby North;Laura Smith, shadow Cabinet Office minister and MP for Crewe and Nantwich; Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova; and a number from Scotland and the Midlands. Two prominent Scottish Nationalists, the Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black also pledged support. Tory MPs were noticeable by their absence.

What is clear is this issue which I fully support – I did address the rally myself on the key issues- is now going places. This weekend it made the mainstream media, the next stage must be inside the courts and Parliament itself.

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The protesters arrive at Westminster 

 

Exposed: The worldwide hypocritical stance by successive UK ministers on women’s rights and their pensions

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The logo of the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women

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A damning academic expert opinion on successive UK government’s failure to meet its international obligations to  1950s women hit by the rise in the pension age is to be presented in court soon as part of an application for a judicial review of the decision

Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of the West England , has produced the report,  which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international  convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.

The full brief  can be clicked on  here. AMICUS BRIEF 10 September 2018

The reports conclusion’s are stark :

 “The effect of the mechanisms in issue in this case have a discriminatory effect on women born in the 50s, adversely impacting on older women’s health, economic and social life in that the voluntary use of the mechanisms have the effect of failing to provide adequate access to pensions for women and therefore must be removed and full restitution substituted. “

Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986 took the decision to sign up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (known as CEDAW)  – an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and now recognised by 189 countries. In 2004 Tony Blair’s government went a step further and accepted an optional protocol and  UK ministers of all parties have played an active role in its international work for many years.

The UK’s treaty obligations mean that we are signed up, as the report says, to “women’s equality within society, in both the public and private spheres, obligating States to formulate policies, laws and programmes to advance women and promote substantive equality (equality in outcome, not only equality of opportunity) as well as from refraining from actions that will put women in a worse position.

“It includes alleviating economic disadvantage as a result of persistent structural inequality and remedying past injustices that had and continue to put women in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis men. ”

The report argues that the UK is in breach of its international treaty obligations in three main areas over the treatment of 50s women.

The rise in the pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 for women was far more drastic than for men who  faced a one year rise in 2020 compared to a six year rise for women. The implementation of the taper which meant women had to wait longer and longer for their pension  and it was made worse by the failure of the government to inform individuals how the decision would affect them. And finally the decision targeted one particular group – those born in the 1950s in a much more drastic way than anybody else – and successive governments have failed to even consider reviewing its effects.

The report says : “The imposition of the mechanisms resulted in women born in the 50s’ access to pensions being postponed, in some cases for years, despite the fact that women born in the 50s had a life-long expectation and had been repeatedly told that they would be entitled to their State pension at 60.

“The effect of the State measures of delay in being able to access State-sponsored pensions has meant a decrease in income for women born in the 50s as well as obligating women born in the 50s to continue to work or to find employment in order to make up any shortfall in pensions. This has led to substantial financial insecurity for the women so affected.

By their actions, the State has discriminated against these women because they are women as the measures only seriously adversely affect women born in the 50s, made the economic and health position of women born in the 50s significantly worse and thereby have infringed their human rights and fundamental freedoms as proscribed by CEDAW. “

In my view the ministers involved are hypocrites. Margaret Thatcher,as Britain’s first women prime minister, deserves praise  for signing the country up to the new convention.

But then her social security secretary, John Moore, within two years started undermining the position of  women  – first by withdrawing Treasury money to the  National Insurance Fund – leading eventually to  a shortfall  of  £271 billion – this included not only pensions but the funding of maternity allowances.

Then John Major’s government took the decision to raise the pension age rather than start paying money again into the fund which would have more than covered the current £77 billion to restore pensions for the 50s women. Successive governments  including Theresa May’s either did nothing or made matters worse by raising the pension age further claiming there was no money.

Meanwhile on the international stage Britain was portraying itself as a world leader in women’s rights with ministers attending the international convention meetings.

Since 1997 when Tony Blair created the position of minister for women in the Cabinet – the following prominent women politicians have held this job. which they combine with other duties. The Labour politicians are Harriet Harman, Baroness Jay,  Patricia Hewitt,the late Tessa Jowell and  Ruth Kelly.

The Tories are Theresa May, Maria Miller, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening,Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt , the current minister who is also international development secretary.

These women should be backing the case for 50s women if they have a shred  of integrity and want to live up to the ideals of a convention signed by Margaret Thatcher which commits the country to the advancement of women.

CEDAR is already planning to hold the UK to account in February for breaching its commitment to women over austerity – 86 per cent of benefits cuts fall on women.

With the judicial review of the raising of the pension age and this international pressure over the UK’s discrimination against women over benefit cuts the scene is set for a perfect storm for the UK government.

 

A No Deal Brexit could leave nearly 500,000 expatriate Brits with frozen pensions like those living in Canada and Australia

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Last year  it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European  Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention  guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.

There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and  the  government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.

But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.

The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.

There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both  unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU  countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.

The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU  the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.

Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:

“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”

An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.

The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by  British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.

The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that  created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.

So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name   few of the frozen pension  states can only  get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.

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Mobility on the marshes: Two cheers for Natural England and the Norfolk coast path

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The new wheelchair and mobility scooter friendly surfaced path from Blakeney towards Cley

Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast is home to one of Britain’s more unusual natural wildlife reserves – the salt marsh. These  vast muddy flat expanses are  regularly flooded by the sea- and are home to a large variety of sea birds, ducks and migratory geese and perfect places for many unusual plants and flowers.

To really appreciate these large areas  caught between the land and see you need to be able walk for miles between Norfolk coast towns and villages. For some years my wife, Margaret and I have  been able to do precisely that -walking four or five miles  often in a refreshing stiff breeze and ending up in a local hostelry eating  fresh crab sandwiches before returning back to Blakeney.

Since she had a stroke this is no longer possible and I thought the marshes would be largely out of bounds.

 

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The quay at Blakeney

However having just returned from Blakeney I discovered that Natural England who are responsible for England’s network of long distance footpaths and the local North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Beauty have started making the place far better accessible for the disabled.

They have started to convert part of the  Norfolk coast path going from Blakeney to Cley  and from Blakeney to Morston Quay to make it wheelchair and mobility scooter accessible – allowing disabled people to get out into the marshes which previously  only able bodied people could make the  trip.

Unfortunately the new surface does not go all the way to Cley- and the beginning of the Morston Quay route has been blocked off by builders renovating local cottages necessitating a diversion- hence only two cheers- but it is a good start.

There are also two good links on the web that disabled people will find helpful. The Norfolk Coast Partnership has an activity map here.

And there is a partially complete guide to wheelchair access to the path here on the national trail website.

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A typical creek on Blakeney Marshes

Given the present dire situation for disabled people with many losing benefits as a result of the government’s austerity programme – this is one good piece of welcome news for any disabled person contemplating a staycation this summer -once the temperatures have dropped from their present high level.

Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Whitehall’s shameful database of women’s pathetic state pensions

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Department for Work and Pensions – still misleading  the public on the huge gap between men and women pensioners

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In May this year  Which? Money published the  results of access the consumer organisation had  to the entire  Department for Work and Pension database on pensions. The headline result press released by Which ? Money here  was that women  are worse off now than men  by a staggering  £29,000 over a 20 year old period.

The disclosure led Harry Rose, Which? Money editor, to warn : “Our evidence shows how variable people’s state pension payments still are. Many pensioners will be shocked by the differences in average payouts to men and women and those qualifying under the old and new systems.”

The issue is worth raising because just last week the Department of Work and Pensions published its annual report ( more to come in a future blog) which despite Which? Money findings  from the DWP’s own database perpetuates the myth that some how today’s pensioners are living the high life with little or no housing costs and longer and longer life expectancy.

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The agenda is clear – paving the way in five years time for yet another rise in the pension age – and totally ignoring the present plight of 50s women denied pensions for up to six years . Add the fact that it could take decades now before men and women receive an equal pension. The average , despite the new state pension, is still 18 per cent, below a typical male pension.

The figures revealed by the Which? Money from the DWP are extremely  alarming if you are a woman. If you are a man you can be complacent – not only did you get a  good deal under the old system you are the main beneficiary of the new one.

The biggest  group of beneficiaries (8.4 million) – getting on average £142 a week- are today’s pensioners who have a long national insurance contributions and qualified for an earnings related pension. Of these 4,958,000 are men and  3,417,000 are women.

Above this on an average of  £174 a week are the spouses of these recipients who died. and they inherited their spouses NI contributions to top up their pension They are 1,454,040 women and 276,960 men – the only category where women  do better. Sadly  they have to lose a partner  to achieve it.

Much lower at £145 a week are those whose spouses died but they themselves did not have a pension  – again most are women –  679,995 to just 2045 men.

Those unfortunate enough not to be entitled to get a pension get just an average of £63 a week  based on their partner’s NI contributions – again there are 545,905 women to 1095 men.

The best off are the new state pensioners – after changes came into force in 2016  and they also had protected money to top up the new pension. They get £181 a week. But 79 per cent of these are men – 142,080 to 17,920 women. The reason for this is directly due to the plight of the 50s women who ceased to qualify for pensions at 60 and many are still waiting for one.

As anyone can see this is woefully unfair to women.  It suggests there is a long way to go to get equality  with men even when women eventually get their pension.

There is also a divide where the money is paid out – highest state pensions – between £153 and £154 a week – are paid out in East Hertfordshire, High Wycombe and Aberdeen. Lowest ( between £128 and £140 a week) – are paid in the London borough of Newham, Leicester, Manchester and Cornwall.

And there are huge differentials if you go abroad. Expatriats living now in Australia, Canada and New Zealand get frozen pensions averaging between £41 and £44 a week.

Those in Europe get pension increases every year  – bringing Spain to an average of £107.76 a week and France to £104.39 a week.

Curiously 10 UK nationals who retired  to Azerbaijan – part of the old Soviet bloc – get  an average of £127 a week.

Don’t ask me why but I did discover this website which tells you how to avoid pension  taxes by putting your money into an Azerbajiani off shore fund. According to the article 2400 British expats have done this and they don’t have to live there and participate in traditional Azerri sports such as ox wrestling or javelin throwing either. They can live in Malta and have the money paid into Azerbaijan to avoid tax. My guess is these must be high rollers who qualify for  a state pension.

Perhaps the government  should investigate this instead.