Can the DWP’s newest feminist recruit give the ” shambolic” ministry a more people friendly face?

Elizabeth Fairburn,(right) now the Department for Work and Pensions new customer experience director

Last week I watched the polite questioning by MPs of the top officials from the Department of Work and Pensions about their latest published accounts – which I have already lambasted in a blog here.

At this hearing of the Commons Public Accounts Committee – see this link – once again Peter Schofield, the permanent secretary – had to apologise to the nation’s pensioners for the ministry’s failure to rectify the underpayment of pensions to hundreds of thousands of pensioners, some who may still have to wait until 2024 to get their money. He promised 1000 more staff -having started with just 100 people – to sort out this scandal.

Once again – it is the 34th year in a row – the top officials had failed to balance the books – because of benefit fraud and error reaching record levels. Again it was promised that this will be sorted – we shall see whether this is really true next year.

Peter Schofield, DWP permanent secretary

But the most interesting aspect of the hearing was a new face on the block. She is Elizabeth Fairburn, who is the customer experience director at the DWP. She has been recruited from Direct Line Insurance as the head of claims response – where she deals with insurance claims from customers. She is quite obviously not a career civil servant unlike Peter Schofield, her boss whose cv shows, apart from a secondment to 3i, is a mandarin to his fingertips.

What is even more interesting she is a firm campaigner for women. She recently gave an interview to mark International Women’s Day this year with Gatenby Sanderson, a head hunting agency recruiting executives for the public sector ( recent appointments included the chief executive officer of the National Cancer Research Institute and the people’s director for the London Fire Brigade).

I have reproduced it at the top of this blog. As well as talking about her career, she is committed to equal pay for women, proper career paths for women who return to work after looking after children and most importantly women having real self belief in themselves and not being put down by men. She also is a coach for women to believe in themselves.

Can Elizabeth Fairburn do anything for claimants and pensioners?

But can she do anything for the millions of claimants and pensioners who have to endure using the DWP? She admits in the interview that she knew little about the working of the organisation.

At the hearing she made some interesting comments. She told MPs:

:”We are mapping out the plans and trying to piece things together. It is a big Department, and I am trying to get my head around a lot of things. I can see some real opportunities in how we could use different approaches to map out the journey from a customer’s point of view, which would help us as the civil service understand what that looks like and therefore where we can make improvements. Peter [‘Schofield] has already referenced the work that we are doing on digital and automation, which is a real opportunity, but we cannot automate processes that are clunky or difficult. We have got to review those, simplify them and then make them available on a digital solution to encourage customers to “engage with us.

On communicating with pensioners, particularly those owed money she told MPs:

“I have a team within customer experience who are continually looking at the communications that we send to customers to make sure that they are simple. Obviously, we are reliant on listening and learning techniques, such as what we see through complaints, to identify where to look. When we see those things, we can simplify the processes, and potentially the communications to customers, to help them with that and keep them updated.”

On stopping people’s benefits she said she had a team of 36 people checking the vulnerability of people before they did this:

“They are there proactively to support the wider DWP in identifying and signposting support for our customers with the most complex needs. In the example you were just talking about, my team work closely with Bozena’s [Bozena Hillyer in charge of counter fraud and compliance] team and, when there is a difficult decision to make about stopping someone’s benefit because of potential fraud, my team are there to support the frontline to say, “Have you considered X, Y or Z to ensure that we are doing the right things for our customers and making the right decisions?”

Egregious frightening letter from the DWP to a pensioner

Can she make a difference? As this blog has shown some of the communications have been egregious. Like the one I featured last August to pensioner Rosie Brocklehurst when the department was conducting a pension review which said: ““If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped.”

This was , of course, totally untrue – the department can’t stop anybody’s pension.

So at the moment the jury will be out on how successful Elizabeth Fairburn will be in changing the culture. But I will be watching to see if this determined woman from Leeds can make a difference or not. Her Linked In self description describes her as “A passionate, energetic and inspiring people leader, renowned for the ability to champion change and transformation especially in underperforming teams or functions with a need for significant cultural revolution. “

Watch this space to see if this is true for the DWP.

Please donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my forensic journalism

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00


My evidence to the CEDAW in LAW Tribunal this month on the egregious plight of 50s women and their lost pensions

Giving evidence to CEDAW in LAW tribunal

Earlier this month I gave evidence to a tribunal set up by CEDAW in LAW presided over by Australian judge Jocelynne Scutt on the situation affecting 3.8 million women who have had to wait an extra six years to get their pension.

My evidence tries to explain how this situation came about going back to 1988 when the government decided to end Treasury contributions (except when the fund was in the red) to the National Insurance Fund starving it of money to pay out pensions. Given pensions are paid out of current contributions the fund would have built up a very healthy surplus – enough for both higher pensions for everybody later and avoided the current raising of the pension age. Given the UK has one of the lowest state pensions in Europe this would have been a very good improvement.

My evidence also showed how successive governments failed to properly tell the women affected how they would lose their pensions for five and later six years under the 1995, 2008 and 2011 Pensions Acts.

And it reveals how men were treated differently after Margaret Thatcher in 1983 decided to pay the national insurance contributions for men from 60 to 65 to keep them from claiming unemployment benefits. This lasted until 2018 and was available for 9.8 million men. Women born in the 1950s were promised this from 2010 but it was never implemented.

Failure to remedy

Also I strongly criticise the failure to remedy this in both the courts and through the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Supreme Court would not hear the case and Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has given half hearted support to maladministration claims for part of the period. On top of that the All Party Parliamentary Group on state pension inequality has been ineffective, relying on the Ombudsman to present the women’s case rather than directly intervening as MPs to pressurise the government.

The tribunal also heard from a number of women who described the devastating effect this wait had on their lives and from Elgun Safarov, the vice chairperson of the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women Committee.

Please donate to Westminster Confidential to continue my work and investigations.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Delegates from UK’s biggest public service union back a Bill of Rights to end once and for all discrimination against women

The short snippet above from Unison delegate Lianne Dallimore is the moment the 1.3 million member Unison trade union came out in favour of backing implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women into UK law.

This is a very important move as the union will be the first big organisation to endorse a policy that will require women to get equal pay, equal rights to pensions, rights to child care fast and finally put an end to the painfully slow progress there has been to grant women equal rights to men.

Unison banners; pic credit: unison.org

Unison is one of the largest trade unions in the UK It has a woman general secretary, Christina McAnea and women outnumber men as members by a huge majority. There are over one million women members to 300,000 men. Most of its members are among the lowest paid in the country whether they are teaching assistants,, dinner ladies, low paid NHS staff or local authority workers.

Unison is also an influential union in the Labour movement and in the Labour Party. So its delegates decision to endorse such a policy will now mean the national executive committee will have to decide whether to back it. If it does the Shadow Cabinet will have to sit up and take notice – and it will put pressure on Labour to include a promise to do so in their next party manifesto. Angela Rayner, the deputy party leader, has previously backed implementing Cedaw.

The full motion read;

Conference we call on the National Executive Council to:

1) Work with National Labour Link and the national women’s committee to develop a comprehensive campaign for the implementation of CEDAW into domestic legislation;

2) Work with Learning and Organising Services (LAOS) on developing a training and awareness package on CEDAW for activists and members;

3) Report back to National Delegates Conference 2023 on progress made.

North Cumbria Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Health

It also comes at an opportune moment as Boris Johnson’s government is under fire from the United Nations for taking far too long to implement a convention that Margaret Thatcher signed up to in 1986.

The Labour Party went part of the way introducing the Equality Act, which became law in 2010 – but it is still a half hearted piece of legislation – more bark than bite. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has gone further by including in her last manifesto a promise of legislation implementing it in full.

But she is up against Boris Johnson – who shows not the slightest interest in this issue – and has blocked at the Supreme Court any chance of Scotland introducing a parallel law implementing the UN convention on the rights of the child, which the UK has also ratified but not properly implemented.

The decision by Unison at its delegate conference, which endorses a report prepared by Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of the Cedaw Tribunal, that calls for sweeping reforms to radically change the position of women in society – from immediate equal pay to ending the long running sore that has bedevilled 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who had to wait six years to get their pensions and were never properly informed by the change.

Ground breaking issue

Last year the CEDAW People’s Tribunal was held. his was a ground breaking tribunal backed by Garden Court Chambers where academics, activists and women’s rights experts produced a wide range of evidence-based policies to end women’s discrimination.

The union’s backing is an important development for CEDAWinLAW which I am a patron, to get this issue on the agenda.

Last year some detractors, sadly a number of them professional women, tried to rubbish the CEDAW People’s Tribunal as though the whole hearing was a waste of time and space. They would rather keep women in their place than fight for change.

Another tribunal hearing on the way

Next month CEDAWinLAW will hold another tribunal to specifically look again at the issue of 50s women and their loss of a pension and how it happened.

In the meantime the action by Unison delegates will only spur women who want change now – not dragged out for decades – to continue the fight.

Please donate to my blog to allow me to continue my forensic coverage.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Manifesto: How Labour Party activists fought for Socialism in Liverpool and the bitter sweet results that followed

Poster for the new film

Manifesto is a new film out this week that explores in depth local Labour Party activists and their fight to get a Labour government elected in the December 2019 general election.

It is an unusual film as it covers a constituency – Liverpool, Walton – ignored by the national media -concentrating on the passion of grass roots activists in one of the poorest parts in Britain. It is also Labour’s safest seat.

The film conveys the idealism of the campaigners and how the last Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn would have meant real change for the people of Walton – many relying on free school meals and food banks – by providing better schools, a better NHS, more worker’s rights and better wages. But it was not to be. Instead Labour lost the general election in the fog of the Brexit row where unknown bureaucrats in Brussels were scapegoated as holding the working class back and depriving them of their ” freedoms”.

A street in Walton. Still from the film

The prism the director Daniel Draper ( who was born and grew up in Walton) uses is to tell the tale through the eyes and voices of local activists -a group that are normally completely ignored.

He intersperses their views with quotes from Robert Tressell’s work The Ragged -Trousered Philanthropists – regarded by George Orwell as a ” book everyone should read”. This tells a semi autobiographical story of a house painter’s struggle to get work in Edwardian England. He died from TB in Liverpool Royal Infirmary and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the city. The link between today’s activists and his legacy is vividly portrayed in one scene in the film.

He also intersperses the dialogue with stills of part of the constituency showing the poverty and both neat and neglected streets.

A thoughtful Ian Byrne during the 2019 election count. Still from the film

The result is a bitter sweet documentary. The campaigning in Liverpool was a great success – with both Parliamentary candidates who are on the left of the party, Dan Carden ( Liverpool Walton) and Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby) returned with thumping majorities.

But in the rest of the country Labour lost badly -including two seats Walton activists were sent to help the party in Blackpool and Crewe.

Since then internal struggles in the Labour Party -including in Liverpool – have divided Labour activists and I am pretty certain Liverpool Walton is not a priority for the new leader Sir Keir Starmer – precisely because it is such a safe seat where Labour voters are taken for granted.

But in my view this would be a mistake. Labour has always been a broad church and the hopes, aspirations and frankly, eternal optimism to create a better society from the people portrayed in this film should not be ignored or squandered by party bosses in London.. The present mess and chaos we are in under this Tory government is too bitter a pill to swallow not only for the voters of Liverpool Walton but for everyone else. As Dan Carden, the MP for Walton said on the film before the result: “We can’t afford another five years of Tory government.”

Dan Carden during the campaign Still from the film

Initial screenings:

16 June: Picturehouse At FACT, Liverpool (Q&A: MP Ian Byrne, activist Alan Gibbons, director Daniel Draper, hosted by Ross Quinn)

16 June: Glasgow Film Theatre (Q&A: MSP Paul Sweeney & former MSP Neil Findlay, hosted by Ruth Gilbert)

17 June: Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle (Q&A: MP Ian Lavery, Laura Pidcock from People’s Assembly, activist Ben Sellers, director Daniel Draper)

30 June: Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds (Q&A: MP Richard Burgon & director Daniel Draper)

DATE TBC: Savoy Cinema, Nottingham (Q&A: MP Nadia Whittome & director Daniel Draper)

3 August: Duke’s At Komedia, Brighton (Q&A: MP Lloyd Russell Moyle & director Daniel Draper)

Further details of other venues including two in London will be on this link https://www.shutoutthelight.co.uk/manifesto

Please Donate to Westminster Confidential to help me continue my forensic investigations and different coverage.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Lord Reed: The Supreme Court President backing the government against the people

Lord Reed of Allermuir, President of the Supreme Court. Pic credit: judiciary.com

An influential all party report by peers and MPs published last week (see my report in Byline Times) found nine recent judgements by the Supreme Court were favouring the government over the individual.

The change appears to have taken place after Lord Robert Reed became President in 2020 replacing Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond. It also follows a change in the composition of the court which is now almost exclusively male with just one token female judge out of 10.

The judgements of Lord Reed are hostile to women’s and children’s rights

I have since investigated further and found other cases where Lord Reed’s judgement have struck down opponents to Boris Johnson’s government particularly if they involve campaigning groups and they affect the welfare of women and children.

External view of the Supreme Court Pic Credit: Supreme Court

In one judgement he stated: “challenges to legislation on the ground of discrimination have become
increasingly common in the United Kingdom. They are usually brought by campaigning organisations which lobbied unsuccessfully against the measure when it was being considered in Parliament, and then act as solicitors for persons affected by the legislation, or otherwise support legal challenges brought in their names, as a means of continuing their campaign.”

This as the report points out ” reflect the executive talking point that litigation is used by “activist lawyers” to “conduct politics by other means”. Such a comment could easily have been made by Priti Patel, the home secretary.

BackTo60 outside the High Court in better times

Now this view may well explain a decision not mentioned in the report concerning the fate of a judicial review brought by the BackTo60 organisation on March 30 2021. This is the case readers of this blog will be familiar (Delve and another v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)- involving a long standing campaign to gain full restitution for 3.8 women born in the 1950s who faced up to six years delay in getting their pensions. Since this ruling the Parliamentary Ombudsman has found partial maladministration in the arrangements for implementing this policy.

Lord Reed and two other male judges decided to refuse to hear the case at the Supreme Court saying the delay in bringing the proceedings was unarguable.

Now this is strange given that the Hon Ms Justice Lang – had granted the case for a judicial review on all grounds -and lawyers had been allowed to argue their case at the High Court and the Court of Appeal even though they lost. The only people who were really angry about the decision were government ministers at the DWP.

Michael Mansfield, QC ” activist lawyer”

Michael Mansfield QC who argued the case for Backto60 said the Supreme Court’s was a “paper thin refusal”.

In my opinion the real reason may well have been that Lord Reed loathed campaigning groups like BackTo60 and hated well known ” activist lawyers” like Michael Mansfield. Also his decision would not affect a single man -only elderly women would suffer.

The second case which is in the report concerned another case brought by women and children about the government’s two child limit on tax credits and benefits for children. Again it involved the DWP. The claimants had used the UK’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to argue discrimination. Lord Reed ruled in July 2021 that this was ” out of order” and the UN convention could not be used in arguments because the UK Parliament had not passed specific legislation to implement the convention. This was precisely the opposite of what he argued in 2015.

Lord Reed backed government savings over helping children

But worse than that his judgement gave away his hostility to the plight of women and children.

 “The Court concludes that the two child limit has an objective and reasonable justification, notwithstanding its greater impact on women. The measure pursues a legitimate aim: to protect the economic wellbeing of the country by achieving savings in public expenditure and thus contributing to reducing the fiscal deficit. It was inevitable that, if that aim was to be achieved, there would be a disproportionate impact on women, since women are disproportionately represented among parents responsible for bringing up children  Parliament decided that the disproportionate impact of the two child limit on women was outweighed by the importance of achieving its aims. There is no basis on which the Court could properly take a different view.”

The third case, not mentioned in the report, involves the Scottish government’s attempt to introduce legislation to implement in full the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This alarmed Boris Johnson who did not want the Scottish Government implementing a convention that the UK had ratified which he felt should be done, if at all, by the Westminster Parliament.

I wrote about this here. The Supreme Court sided in October 2021 with the UK government blocking the Scottish Government doing this which also meant that other planned legislation implementing UN conventions on discrimination against women (CEDAW), ethnic minorities and the disabled would be stalled.

Lord Reed’s decision tore up part of the SNP manifesto

This decision led by Lord Reed again limited rights for women and children but also tore up the Scottish National Party manifesto pledge to introduce legislation. Ironically given all the fuss over judges being accused by the Daily Mail of being ” enemies of the people”, it makes Lord Reed, a Scottish judge who would know all about Scottish politics, an enemy of the Scottish voter who had elected the SNP government and expected them to fulfill their promises.

My conclusion is both Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the Lord Chancellor, literally know they have a friend at court, the highest court in the land. They know they can introduce what restrictive legislation they want, and provided it is passed by Parliament, the most powerful judge in the land’s loathing of campaigning groups, will help them get their way. And women who only have a marginal role in the Supreme Court, better not expect any help either from a man who appears to have a bit of a misogynistic streak when it comes to backing their corner.

Please donate to Westminster Confidential so I can continue my investigations and forensic analysis.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Judge backs DWP to deprive tens of thousands of elderly women of extra pensions

Judge Nick Wikeley giving his ” top tips for tribunal representatives on benefit appeals” at a study day.

Pic credit: Twitter

But his judgement admits national insurance is ” institutionally sexist”

Last month Judge Nick Wikeley, an administrative court judge, backed the Department for Work and Pensions to stop the pay out of millions of pounds to the most elderly pensioners in the country just as the ” cost of living crisis” started to hit home.

He took the decision on technical grounds despite his ruling conceding that the national insurance system was ” institutionally sexist” and that the women involved were likely to be the poorest pensioners in the country.

The case has considerable echoes with the one brought by BackTo60 for full restitution for the loss of their pensions after not being given enough notice of the raising of the pension age from 60 to 65.

Hugh Mercer QC Pic credit: Essex Court chambers
jane Russell Pic credit: Essex Court Chambers

It was brought by an 83 year old pensioner just known as Mrs GM with the pro bono backing of two barristers, Hugh Mercer QC and Jane Russell, both from Essex Court chambers. The DWP employed Julian Mitford QC and Ms Naomi Ling, who represented the DWP in the BackTo60 case.

Like all pensions cases it is complicated but also shocking. Her appeal contains a rule change for pension claimants brought in 2008 under Gordon Brown’s Labour administration.

Until 2008 women who claimed their own pension under the old pension system were also entitled to a second pension based on their husband’s NI contributions the moment he retired. But they had to claim it in their own right and the onus fell on the husband to tell them.

Labour changed this archaic system but did not backdate it

From March 2008 Labour changed this archaic system and women automatically received a second pension when their husband retired. But it was not backdated.

Mrs GM is one of those women in the first group. She got her pension in 1998 and her husband retired in 2000. She did not realise she should claim the second pension until 2017 – 17 years later. The DWP awarded her the second pension but only backdated it by one year. She has lost 16 years of her second pension. The pension is worth £82.45 a week.

Her case was she should be entitled to all her lost money =- either to 2008 when the law changed – or on human rights grounds and direct and indirect sex discrimination way back to 2000 when her husband retired.

The hearing turned into a battle between the DWP – which didn’t want to pay it- and human rights lawyers who thought she should be paid.

Sir Steve Webb

Sir Steve Webb, the former Liberal Democrat and coalition pensions minister, weighed in on her side while the DWP produced a star expert witness – Mr Lyndon Walters, a policy advisor to the DWP’s Decision Making and Appeals Team who was familiar with all the detail of the changes.

Sir Steve’s case centred around DWP policy and its failure to inform women properly about pension changes. The judge commented:

“The Webb W/S [Witness Statement] particularises the ways in which women, and especially married women have been, and to some extent still are, disadvantaged by the old system of retirement pensions, and seeks to quantify those affected. There are, with respect, undoubtedly a number of very well-made points in the witness statement, but they are primarily relevant to high level policy considerations. Understandably enough, and despite his distinguished ministerial career, there is much less about the nitty-gritty (or granular) operational issues underpinning the Department’s pragmatic approach.”

Indeed this moved to the heart of the judgement. The judge was more interested in the internal problems the DWP had in paying out pensions than the justice women were entitled to get the pension in the first place.

This showed up in the extraordinary support by the judge for the arguments put forward by Lyndon Walters.

The judge argued: “The Walters W/S makes out a compelling case for why the 2008 amendment took the exact form that it did. Mr Walters explains the general approach taken to encouraging claims for benefits , the practical considerations and rationale behind the introduction of regulation and the difficulties that would have lain in the way of extending the benefit of the 2008 amendment to those married women whose husbands had already become entitled to their Category A pension before that date In particular, he shows how it was that the advent of new IT systems enabled the Department to assess whether the wife of a Category A pension claimant was herself entitled to a Category B pension at the time of his Category A claim without the need for a separate claim being made. This is an informed and authoritative account that outweighs the Webb W/S, which lacks the same level of granular detail.”

Too difficult and expensive for the DWP to compensate the women

Very simply Walters had argued that it was too difficult and expensive for the DWP to inform the women of their rights. “Mr Walters explains, there was no functionality on the system to alert us to those women who were already entitled to have claimed for their category BL pensions but had not done
so” He concludes:

To identify these individuals, we could have run a search, or ‘scan’ in 2008. However, the task of performing such a search and reviewing the records of those identified, then contacting all of these
individuals and dealing with their entitlements would have been a significant additional burden on the Department, when the purpose of the PTP programme was to try to improve the efficiency and productivity of the system.”

The arguments over human rights were dismissed as peripheral – rather like in the 50swomen case the lawyers had argued: this was “unlawful discrimination on grounds of sex to inform a husband of a wife’s rights and then to reproach a wife of not availing herself of her rights”.

But then the judge admits: “Even so, although Mr Mercer did not employ such terminology, the label of institutional sexism may not be out of place in describing the national insurance scheme. This is undoubtedly, the context for the gradual amelioration of the position of women, and especially
married women, in relation to contributory benefits, including provision for their access to Category B pensions.”

And he further admits that it is like that the majority of women who have lost out in that age group could be among the poorest pensioners with the lowest pensions.

Frankly the judge’s decision in this case is remarkably complacent and far too favourable to the DWP. He seems to be more interested in the problems the DWP would have tracing the women than the loss the women have suffered under what was an archaic system. He is also far too complacent about the pace of redress for women who have suffered discrimination. That is another reason why we need to implement the UN Convention against all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) in full to stop this leisurely progress to righting centuries of discrimination. There will be hearing in July see the website for more information. This is particularly poignant in this case as the people involved are coming to the end of their lives.

A thank you to one of my readers Jeff Roberts, for drawing attention to this judgement. You can read it in full below.

Click to access UA_2021_001262_RP_CP_317_2021c.pdf

Please donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my investigative work.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Employment Tribunal open justice campaign : Sir Keith Lindblom’s office replies to lack of fairness and transparency in hearings

Sir Keith Lindblom, Senior President of Tribunals Pic credit : gov.uk

Last month over 320 people signed a letter to Sir Keith Lindblom, Senior President of Tribunals and the heads of the the employment tribunals in England, Wales and Scotland protesting that tribunals do not keep records or transcripts of their hearings.

The letter signed by senior NHS consultants, doctors, nurses, journalists, whistleblowers and wide range of members of the public sought reforms to the system because of the one sided nature of the hearings particularly in whistleblowing cases – where a litigant in person does not have the resources as a well funded employer.

Transcripts are not available unless the judge gives permission to the parties to take full notes and the only official document is the judge’s decision which can miss out facts given in the case.

Cases involve patient safety, bullying and discrimination

Many of the cases involve issues like hospital and patient safety, bullying, harassment, racial and sex discrimination where a claimant is sacked for suggesting anything has gone wrong rather than the issue being sorted.

Now the official reply from his office acknowledges a number of key facts that people have suspected but have not had confirmation.

First it admits no guidance exists on the use of transcripts and judges don’t have to use them. “There is no provision in the Rules or the Employment Tribunal Regulations that requires hearings to be recorded or transcripts to be produced.”

Second it admits that it is now possible to record hearings as many hearings are held on-line following both a courts modernisation programme and the Covid 19 pandemic.

Judge Barry Clarke, president of the employment tribunal service for England and Wales

And the most positive point in the reply suggests the most senior people are considering changes to the the system.

“The Presidents of the Employment Tribunals are giving consideration to recordings and transcripts in the context of video hearings, where there is a facility to make a recording and which are now used to a greater extent as a result of the HMCTS reform programme and the experience of the pandemic. This is in contrast to most in-person hearings. In most venues where Employment Tribunal hearings take place, recording equipment is not installed, and so no recording can be made. In a few locations in England and Wales, the Employment Tribunal is co-located with a court jurisdiction where such equipment is installed, and where that is so, its use is encouraged.”

The rest of the letter is unsurprisingly a defence of the present system.

“The overriding objective of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure is to deal with cases fairly and justly. That includes, so far as practicable: ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing; dealing with cases in ways which are proportionate to the complexity and importance of the issues; avoiding unnecessary formality and seeking flexibility in the proceedings; avoiding delay, so far as compatible with proper consideration of the issues; and saving expense. Most Employment Tribunal hearings are held in public. Any consideration of an order to prevent or restrict the public disclosure of any aspect of the proceedings must give full weight to the principle of open justice, and, like any judicial decision on a matter of case management, would be amenable to appeal.”

Litigant in person may bring a friend or relative to take notes

“It is also possible to take a note of the proceedings, and a litigant in person may bring a friend or relative with them to the, tribunal to act as a notetaker. Judges invariably allow this, and indeed encourage it.
Litigants in person are also regularly signposted to services such as Support Through Court which can assist with notetaking. “

It goes on: “”The Employment Tribunals provide detailed written reasons explaining the factual and
legal basis of their decisions. Any appeal is based on the judgment and supporting reasons, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal will not accept a transcript in place of written reasons. If at appeal the parties cannot agree what was said in evidence, the Employment Appeal Tribunal may ask the judge who heard the case to answer questions in writing about the evidence on a particular issue or issues. When that happens, both parties will be provided with the document the judge sends in response. In accordance with its Practice Direction, the Employment Appeal Tribunal may also, if it wishes, obtain the judge’s notes of evidence on any disputed matter, which will then feature in the appeal bundle.”

Whistleblowers are at a disadvantage

The problem with this defence is that it doesn’t seem to be reflected on the ground. Many whistleblowers say they feel at a disadvantage particularly if they wish to appeal a decision and they haven’t got a transcript to raise points that are not mentioned in the judgement. And most whistleblowing hearings are far from informal occasions – employers use forensic barristers whose questioning of whistleblowers would not be out of place at an Old Bailey trial.

It also raises some interesting questions. If recording facilities are available at on-line and hybrid hearings why are they not used? Or while obviously judges only use notes, do other court officials use them unofficially to check facts for judges? There has to be change in the employment tribunal system to bring it up to the 21st century and the HM Tribunal and Court Service need to explain how they intend to bring this about.

After publication of this blog a circuit judge publicly backed the recording of all hearings.

Kaly Kaul QC said: “As a Judge in a Crown Court where proceedings have been recorded ever since it replaced shorthand writers, it is unfortunate that every Court is not recorded. Teams and Cloud Video platform have recording facilities. In addition we have recording onto micro SD cards so that any material played in court is automatically recorded so that the Jury can retire with it. It is imperative that proceedings are recorded. It cannot be that difficult to put in place.”

Please donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my forensic investigations and campaigns for justice.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to westminster Confidential

£10.00

Revealed: A new generation of women face pension inequality

Pic credit: Siemens pension scheme

Just before the Parliamentary recess the House of Commons library produced a new report on pension inequality showing how a new generation of women will lose out again to men unless action is taken now.

The report- The Pension Gender Gap – makes stark reading for millions of women now in work. The focus in this report is on the hurdles facing women to get an equal pension with men.

The main hurdle is the private pension or second pension women receive to top up their state pension. It quotes a Women’s Budget Group pre-Budget Briefing which says that: ‘Private pension schemes, promoted and subsidised by UK governments, are the main reason for the gender gap in pensions, placing women at a disadvantage due to their domestic roles and lower pay’.

The pay gap – still at 7.9 per cent – between men and women is basically discriminating against women getting the same pension as men. When the Conservative government set up the auto-enrollment scheme for a workplace pension in 2012- funded by employers and employee contributions – they excluded anyone not earning enough to pay national insurance.

While it increased the chances of women getting a private pension ( from 40 per cent in 2012 to 86 per cent in 2020) their savings fall away after they reach 35 because they are bringing up children and often take part time work.

As the report says: “The design of automatic enrolment widens the gap between lower and higher earners in retirement and disadvantages those in second jobs.”

Women who take part time work or multiple part time jobs are simply excluded from getting a second private pension partly paid by their employer.

Some low paid women may never get a work pension

And those who never earn enough at work – there are an estimated 500,000 of them nearly all women – never get a second pension at all.

As the Association of British Insurers told MPs on the Commons Work and Pension Committee: “Women disproportionately work in lower paid jobs; 75% of those earning under the £10,000 AE earning trigger are women. They also make up the majority of multiple job holders, as much as 64%. This is significant as their total income could be over the AE earnings trigger, but as it is divided across multiple jobs they will not be automatically enrolled into a pension.’

Fortunately it looks like the Department for Work and Pensions is planning to do something about this though we may have to wait a couple of years before this happens.

A DWP spokesperson said :

“Automatic enrolment has helped millions more women save into a pension, with participation among eligible women in the private sector rising from 40% in 2012 to 86% in 2020 – equal to that of men. Our plans to remove the Lower Earnings Limit for contributions and to reduce the eligible age of being automatically enrolled to 18 in the mid-2020s will enable even more women to save more and start saving earlier.”

But this isn’t the only barrier. The report highlights three other issues, affordable child care, pension rights for divorcees and monitoring pension equality.

On child care the report highlights demands by the trade union, Prospect and the People’s Pension, one of the larger pension trusts, both call for help with child care including tax relief for the care of the under two year olds and a local authority grant for 3 and 4 year olds.

Make pension savings a compulsory part of a divorce settlement

The Pension and Lifetime Savings Association call for the law to be changed so pension rights have to be considered in divorce proceedings.

“The government should consider changing the law to ensure that pensions rights are considered on a mandatory basis as part of divorce. Currently pensions may only be considered if there is a financial settlement considered by the courts. The process of pension sharing on divorce could also be better streamlined to remove friction and delay for all parties.”

And finally the Government Equalities Office should impose a mandatory requirement on the DWP to publish gender pension gap statistics and then draw up proposals to speed up ending the gap. The GEO did not want to comment on this.

There is one ray of hope arising from the new state pension introduced in 2016. It has narrowed the gap between men’s and women’s state pensions. Women got 82pc of men’s pension in 2016. By 2020 it had narrowed to 92pc. But the DWP could not tell me when it would be 100 per cent.

Unless action is taking speedily a whole new generation of women are going to lose out to men. No one wants to suffer the fate of 50swomen who have been so badly treated again. They are already worse off because of the abolition of the second pension in 2016.

Chris Thompson, a retired pension expect, pointed out both men and women lost out over auto-enrollment. “Between 2012 and prior to 6 April 2016 when the new state pension started people were also paying into the state second pension if they were not contracted out.

” From the 6 April 2016 people ceased accruing state second pension so are now much worse off than under the old state pension system. A low earner about £46 pw worse off and a high earner about £67 pw. Another thing to remember is that losses do not take into account loss of inherited and derived rights, loss of GMP indexation if contracted out or increase in NI due to loss of NI rebate.”

Please consider donating to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my forensic investigations and monitor issues.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Judge covers up “avoidable death” of heart patient and General Medical Council revalidation of Dr Usha Prasad to dismiss her whistleblowing case

Employment Judge Tony Hyams-Parish Pic credit: dmhstallard.com

Publication of avoidable death scandal at Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust leads to another relative coming forward and queries about a former senior staff member in Jersey

An employment judge has thrown out Dr Usha Prasad’s whistleblowing case and all her allegations of victimisation, sex harassment, and sex and race discrimination.

She is also facing a costs claim of an astounding £150,000 plus VAT via the law firm Capsticks from the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust.

A letter from Capsticks says: ” The Respondent has incurred very substantial costs indeed in defending the unmeritorious proceedings, of in excess of £150,000 plus VAT. The costs incurred correlate to the Claimant’s unreasonable conduct and the unmeritorious nature of her complaints.”

Judge Tony Hyams-Parish’s judgement is long on the detail of all the various top management’s moves against Dr Prasad which led to an unprecedented 28 month suspension from clinical duties and remarkably short on any evidence given by her and her witnesses. He exonerates the actions of the senior management and ignores claims by any of her witnesses. And given he goes into such detail it is rather surprising he doesn’t mention that Daniel Elkeles, the former chief executive of the trust, offered to abandon the internal disciplinary proceedings against her if she dropped the tribunal case against the trust.

Indeed the most twisted part of his judgement is what he leaves out. Take the issue of the GMC revalidation of Dr Prasad. This is his purple passage:

“The Tribunal was invited to consider was the outcome of the claimant’s hearing before the GMC. The GMC began an investigation into the claimant which concluded in March 2021 with no further action to be taken. The claimant continued to state throughout this hearing that she had been exonerated by the GMC, suggesting that their conclusion must cast doubt on the actions and motivations of the respondent. However, the Tribunal found it difficult to draw any such conclusions from the GMC outcome. The Tribunal was not shown the content of the GMC referral or the case examiner’s report. Whilst the GMC and the respondent were looking at the same cases, their remits were likely to be quite different. In any event, the Tribunal was not shown sufficient evidence to decide either way.”

Really? The GMC judgement was entirely based on a list of 43 complaints submitted by the trust and obviously the trust expected it to be endorsed by the GMC. Instead it was sent to very experienced cardiologist in Middlesbrough who had worked at Papworth Hospital and he could not find anything wrong. And not only was this finding approved by the GMC, they revalidated her – taking away the power of the trust to do this. Given many doctors feel they are not well treated by the GMC, this was a remarkable outcome. The GMC was telling the trust to get stuffed.

Dr Usha Prasad with the former chief executive of the trust, Daniel Elkeles

The second area is the glossing over of the main whistleblowing claim. It centred around the avoidable death of a 76 year old man, Mr P, from heart failure, partly caused by negligence, muddle and poor communication at the trust. Dr Usha Prasad, who had no part in the care of the patient, was asked to review the case as an independent person. Evidence was given that an attempt was made to get Dr Prasad to rewrite her findings which included that the death should have been reported to the coroner and the Care Quality Commission. At the hearing Dr Richard Bogle, former head of the cardiology department, admitted that this should have been done – basically saying Usha Prasad’s judgement was right.

But this has been airbrushed from the judgement. If I hadn’t been there to report the case, no one would be the wiser that this happened.

Judge Tony Hyams-Parish disrespectful to dead man’s family

Not only to do I find this a gross omission but in my view the judge is being disrespectful to the man’s family by removing the details of the whistleblowing case. It is though he is thinking so what, a 76 year old dies, who cares?

But Judge Hyams-Parish knows he is on solid ground to ignore all this. He has already told Usha Prasad there is no recording or transcript of the proceedings, and his judges’ notes will never be released. So his judgement is the only record. And it is criminal offence if anyone has a recording.

Judgement a stain on British justice

My view is that this judgement is a stain on British justice which is supposed to be the epitome of ” fair play” and full transparency.

Instead it appears to me to more akin to Russian and Chinese justice .Here there is a semblance of justice but the result is a foregone conclusion. What appears in this case is the forces of the Establishment have been marshalled to intimidate and destroy an individual for the benefit of state power.

One good result of the publicity is that a relative of another person who died at St Helier hospital has come forward to me to investigate their case. And what happened at St Helier seems to have been picked up in Jersey, where this blog has a small circulation, and queries are being raised about a former senior manager at St Helier.

Please donate to my blog to continue my forensic investigations

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Delays, miscalculations and unanswered calls: How the DWP is cheating first time pensioners

Chaos inside the Department for Work and Pensions

As 1950s born women finally get their first pension at the age of 66 a new problem is emerging.

The chaos inside the DWP , which is coping both with new applications for pensions and having to pay back over 100,000 people who it cheated out of their pension in the past, has now spread to first time pensioners. As already revealed by this blog the DWP has secretly put through a ” drop and go” scheme and decided to prioritise simple cases – nearly always men – over complicated ones, such as widows entitled to past Serps payments to their husband’s pension and divorced women.

As a result the pension help line can’t cope, staff handling cases have not been properly briefed, and barely properly trained. People are starting to wait months beyond the due date when they get their pension. And when they get it the calculations can be wrong.

Pauline Hinder

To illustrate this scandal one of my blog readers, Pauline Hinder, a 1950s born woman, who has kept meticulous records of her pension entitlement, and is a supporter of BackTo60, kept a diary of her trials and tribulations with the Department for Work and Pensions in trying to get her correct pension.

The story does have a happy ending but only because a former Liberal Democrat pensions minister, Sir Steve Webb, intervened on her behalf. Until then she was at a dead end.

DWP’s pension estimate was less than half Pauline was entitled

If that hadn’t happened she would have lost tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of her pension. They offered her a pension of just under £69 a week. Her real pension entitlement was £141.84 a week -more than DOUBLE the money they offered her.

Unlike many people she had records which could prove what they should pay her. But getting through to the DWP proved impossible.

As her diary reveals : “

 “rang  08007310469 opt 2 then opt 4then opt 2 

Spoke to Lee 10.20 He said I had to ring  08007317898 ‘new claim’ option – even though I’ve already made my claim!

Rang 08007317898 New claim opt 2 Then Hold for advisor

“Spoke to a polite man Anthony He was working from home ..but saw they’d received my letter of 6 pages of evidence to prove my entitlement was double their official pension quote yet couldn’t say when they’d received it. He said he’d flag it up to check but it would take 4 weeks…..I asked when 4 weeks started – he said today!  

“I said no!  Unacceptable – I’d phoned and written early in January and it was a 6 week response time then..

“I insisted a manager call me back  I explained that the DWP had already underpaid a raft of earlier womens’ pensions and made amends/still making, without interest or compensation.  Have they learned nothing – or are they committing corporate fraud as they are now repeating the same mistakes with a new generation of applicants. 

” He was polite but batting me off with hogwash”

“He requested a callback within 24 hours for me. He was polite but batting me off with hogwash about no one to speak to, no supervisor blah blah. ..but he did put me on hold for a couple of minutes so I guess he was contacting someone from his home.  “

As she says: “The DWP telephone line was useless….working from home, no managers, no access to screens telling them where matters were at.  I sent all copies of my historical records supporting my correct position and their error in January and to date I have had no acknowledgement of that correspondence receipt but I know they’ve had it because I asked in one of the several pension helpline calls I made!  The last helpline call I made I insisted a manager called. 

” They called about an hour later but I think I was dog walking and missed the call. You can phone the number but it has a pre-recorded message saying they wanted to speak to me but they’ll call if they need to.  They didn’t call again….”

Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb intervention meant it was sorted in 24 hours

In desperation she turned to Sir Steve Webb, the former pensions minister in the coalition government.

He intervened by calling the DWP on her behalf.

Sir Steve went to a Pensions Customer Care Manager called David at the DWP.  He was very helpful and genuinely empathetic. 

 Sir Steve was involved and job done in under 24 hours.  Written apology in 48 hours and revised pension award in 72 hours.  

An apology from the DWP showing the right pension

Sir Steve told me: “I’ve generally tried to help a small number of existing and new state pension recipients where they have got stuck on a complex issue or where there appears to be an unresolved underpayment.

“In Mrs Hinder’s case she had clearly understood the rules and spotted when a more recent state pension forecast (and award) was far below the correct amount.   I passed her details on to DWP who quickly accepted that an error had been made.

“I do remain concerned that despite all the focus on historic state pension errors, errors are still being made on new claims.   Whilst Mrs Hinder’s case relates to quite a narrow and specific issue (a special concession for women who paid the ‘reduced stamp’) a more common error I still come across is newly retired widows who are not getting the inherited SERPS they are due from a late husband on top of their own new state pension   It’s a trickle rather than a flood, but, as we know, only a small percentage of a very big number is a lot of individual cases.”

My take on this is that Pauline Hinder showed amazing initiative and finally got her pension. But Sir Steve Webb cannot be expected to intervene in every case as he wouldn’t have time to do his day job. What we need is proper system with enough trained staff to do the job. It is quite clear we haven’t got one and ministers are to blame, They should sort it.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00