How a leading expert on home working is stymied by the government’s “litany” of failures to deliver broadband

John Howkins. You can find him at johnhowkins.com

MPs condemn multiple failures on planned broadband provision

John Howkins is well known in the creative industry as an innovator, author and an international speaker. His books – particularly relevant in the present pandemic – highlight a new way to look at work based at home. His latest book ” Invisible Work” concentrates on how people in work can adapt to the new age of artificial intelligence rather than be made redundant by it.

His world centres on publishing, TV, film, digital media and streaming – all the new technologies brought to us by the huge growth of the new digital age.

Supreme Irony

It is therefore a supreme irony that his opportunity to engage in this age of isolation has been wrecked by a Conservative government breaking its manifesto promise to bring broadband to everyone. The failed manifesto pledge – only a year after it was made – is highlighted today in a new report from the all party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

For Mr Howkins’ problem is that he lives in rural Norfolk near Attleborough in the Parliamentary constituency of Mid Norfolk represented by Tory MP George Freeman – a tech enthusiast who has written pamphlets on how technology can save the NHS. But as yet has done nothing to help his constituents get the broadband they need.

Mr Howkins like millions of others living rural Britain has no proper broadband that can download videos in seconds or easily stream Netflix or the BBC I Player. And today MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee tell you why.

On November 20 last year Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, unceremoniously dumped the promise to all voters to get fast broadband by 2025 – and substituted a promise for 85 per cent coverage – dumping most rural parts of the UK ( and many Tory voters) in the process. Cynics might suggest the Tories only made this pledge because Jeremy Corbyn, for Labour, had promised a universal free broadband service – saying it should be a basic utility in the 21st century like water or electricity.

Ministry admits target unachievable

The MPs report concludes that not only in ministers’ words ““clear that Government’s 2019 election pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband connectivity by 2025 was unachievable”  but that even this lower target will be missed.

There is supposed to be £5 billion of our money put aside to bring this about but the report reveals that the Department for Culture ,Media and Sport, has yet to allocate 75 percent of this money one year into government for the contracts to do this.

It also warns : PAC is “increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late” and is not convinced that “if and when rural users finally do get gigabit broadband, they will enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts”.

The scoreboard of failures by the ministry is appalling Mps found:

  • failure to make meaningful progress to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025,
  • failure to demonstrate it has learnt lessons from the superfast programme for the detailed design of the gigabit programme,
  • failure to demonstrate how its centralised procurement model will retain the people, skills and knowledge in local authorities that were critical to success in the superfast programme,
  • failure to give any reassurance that local authorities will get additional funding to retain their expert resources at a time when local government finances are under severe pressure from the pandemic,
  • failure to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry to achieve rapid roll-out,
  • failure “yet again” to prioritise consumers in rural areas

Well done culture secretary Oliver Dowden ( NOT )!

Meg Hillier: chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Meg Hillier MP, Labour Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the Government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever. But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther and farther out of reach – even worse news for the “rural excluded” who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.  

“For the foreseeable future, ever more of our lives is moving online, whether we like it or not. Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the Covid19 pandemic. It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”

As for Mr Howkins, his submission to MPs said: ” My current supplier is BT. I have an upload speed of a maximum of 0.3MB and a download speed of 3.0 MB.  BT engineers have visited three times in the past few months and have been unable to improve on these speeds. Several neighbours are in the same position.

“It is therefore difficult to carry on business at present. Our ability to receive even a moderately sized data file is limited. It is impossible to upload a video file of any significant size. Interactive usage (banking) often fails. This week, I led presentations in China and Chile. My own internet link was worse than anyone else’s”

… “The suppliers celebrate their gigabit services but do nothing for those, like me, who would be delighted to have a much lower rate, say 10MB down and 2-3 up.

Regulatory failure

” It is a regulatory failure in the UK that broadband providers are evaluated according to national averages rather than the meeting of local need. So they benefit much more by providing 1GB to a one location, even if it is seldom used, than by providing an increase of 10MB to 10 locations. And providing 1GB to one location is treated as the equivalent to providing 10MB to 100 locations.”

” The pandemic has shown up the extent of the government’s failure.  Although offices will re-open to some extent, the numbers working from home will increase.

I find it extraordinary in 2020 that the UK does not have universal service for broadband as it has for other utilities. Yes, broadband is a utility. “

He told me that he had been reduced to finding a friend who had better connections to do a lot of his work. His only alternative would be to use a local library which had restricted opening times.

He must be one among millions who have this problem and the UK is far behind other European countries.

” I’d be happy if we could reach the standards available in Romania”, he said.

My blog in 2020: The year total visitors passed over 2 million

Welcoming the New Year in London

Happy New Year. Since this blog was launched at the very end of 2009 it has had over 2.8 million hits and over 2 million visitors – a remarkable achievement – even if I say it myself – for a single handed effort.

The number of blogs on my site also topped over 1000 – 1072 – to be exact. Last year my blog got 511,721 hits – that is fewer than the 1,041,000 the previous year – but still the second highest figure since it started.

BackTo60 campaign

I am extremely grateful that so many people are interested enough to read my news and views on current issues and also to the women following the BackTo60 campaign who have had a dispiriting year after losing their Court of Appeal case for compensation for raising their state pension age from 60 to 66. They are also having to wait for a very long time to find out whether the Supreme Court will hear their cases – far too long in my opinion. If it goes to the Supreme Court I shall be reporting it.

Like last year the majority of most read stories were about that campaign. The most read story of all last year was the revelation – from a reader using a Freedom of Information request – that 4.6 million men over 60 had their national insurance contributions paid by the state if they did not register for the dole to keep the unemployment figures down. This had over 64,000 hits and when the Department for Work and Pensions revised this figure to a staggering 9.8 million that had another 34,600 hits – bringing interest in both stories to nearly 100,000.

Coverage of BackTo60’s Court of Appeal hearing was the second highest at 58,860 – which is a pretty high figure for a court case.

Also an old story on how the government has saved paying out £271 billion to the National Insurance Fund which could have paid for higher pensions and also stopped the need to raise the pension age for women had another 22,000 hits. Originally written in the summer of 2018 this enduring blog has now had 311,000 hits altogether.

Boris Johnson announcing the Brexit deal in Parliament. Pic credit: @UK Parliament_Jessica Taylor

Outside other highly read blogs on the pensions campaign the most read blog was one on how Boris Johnson and other Cabinet Ministers were moving towards an elective dictatorship by devolving power to themselves rather than Parliament under new Brexit laws. That had 35,554 hits.

Byline Times

This year there has been a subtle change in coverage on my blog of stories I write for Byline Times. Last year I tended to provide a short summary of the story on my blog. This year most of my Byline Times stories appear by themselves and are not automatically repeated on my blog. They get even wider coverage on Byline Times so those who want to see them and follow me on Twitter do get tweets telling them about the story. Or you could take out a subscription to Byline Times and get a monthly print newspaper.

Ending discrimination against women

There will be new developments next year. I will be blogging about the People’s Tribunal run by John Cooper, QC, the human rights lawyer, to end all forms of discrimination against women. This is a movement which wants to get the UK Parliament to put into domestic law the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. The UK ratified it under Margaret Thatcher but nothing has been done since.

It comes as Elizabeth Truss, the equalities minister, appears to want to reverse progress what she calls “identity politics” so I foresee fresh battles over this issue. And I am curious to see how the Equality and Human Rights Commission is going to handle this.

Dr Usha Prasad

I shall also be taking up some individual cases of injustice. The recent blog on the plight of Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust’s only woman cardiologist just one example – where a health trust is pursuing an individual and where they are whistleblowing issues.

I shall continue to keep an eye on political issues -particularly as incompetence, the chumocracy and corruption are on the rise in the UK and plan to write about it on Byline Times and this blog.

I have started again reporting on child sexual abuse again and plan more articles.

2021 promises to be a challenging year – the first post Brexit year- and I feel more than ready to meet it.

New Year fireworks in Dubai where my daughter and grandchildren are living. She is a science teacher there.

A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health trust’s sole woman cardiologist

Dr Usha Prasad.

Dispute could last a decade

Last week by Zoom I attended a tribunal hearing – just one in a long running saga between the Epsom and St Helier University Trust and their former consultant, Dr Usha Prasad.

This dispute which is by no means over – she has already had one employment tribunal, one employment appeal tribunal, a reference back to the original employment tribunal – and has still to go to a General Medical Council hearing and an another tribunal over her unfair dismissal claim.

The hearing took I attended just one day but it felt to me that I had just stepped into an unreal world of interminable hospital politics. The issue goes back to 2012 and won’t be settled until 2022. And all this, by the way, is being funded by the taxpayer using NHS funds.

Dr Usha Prasad is a well qualified cardiologist who has been popular with patients but ran into difficulties with staff at the trust and complained she was subject to gender and racial discrimination, bullying and harassment. There are also whistleblower issues which are yet to come out at another hearing.

Three years ago she featured in the current trust’s chief executive’s report for receiving a Patient First Gold Badge award for giving ” a wonderful extra five years of life” to an 81 year old patient suffering heart disease. She is pictured here with chief executive Daniel Elkeles.

Dr Usha Prasad with the trust’s chief executive Daniel Elkeles at the award ceremony Pic credit: Epsom and St Helier University Trust

Behind these happy scenes however all was not well. Usha felt she was not being treated well by some of her fellow male colleagues and relations between her and her junior doctor Dr Aran Kumar Perikala were strained.

Anonymous letter sent to Jeremy Hunt

The centre of her complaint surrounded an anonymous letter which turned out to have been sent by him in 2015 to Daniel Elkeles, the chief executive, the Care Quality Commission, the General Medical Council, and to Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary and to one of her patients. It was signed as representing the entire cardiology team at St Helier Hospital and made very serious allegations that Dr Prasad was putting patient safely at risk.

Jeremy Hunt.

She saw this attack by a fellow Indian doctor as sex discrimination and also as racist. It went to an employment tribunal headed by employment judge Katherine Andrews (more about her later) and her complaint was rejected. She appealed to an Employment Appeal Tribunal who upheld three of the letters but said that sending an anonymous letter to a patient and to Jeremy Hunt was going too far. The EAT ordered it to be referred back to the employment tribunal which held a hearing last week.

The hearing was unbalanced from the start. The trust was represented both by a barrister and a solicitor at enormous public expense. She appeared as a litigant in person ( funding herself) but was helped by Philip Howard ,a part time consultant at St Helier, who acted as Mackenzie friend, a pro bono role.

The part time judge, Katherine Andrews -a solicitor – was appointed as an employment judge by Chris Grayling when he was Lord Chancellor in 2013. Coincidently Grayling is also the Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell and is familiar with the workings of his local health trust.

Judge rules clinical judgement is irrelevant

From the start the judge brusquely limited the hearing to the contents of the letter and nothing else. Two other consultants at St Helier, Dr Sola Odemuyiwa, and Dr Ranjit Shail, a consultant physician, who wished to testify about Dr Prasad’s abilities were ruled as ” irrelevant” by the judge as they had no detailed knowledge of the letter. She ruled as ” irrelevant” any discussion about the clinical judgement of Dr Prasad. An issue that her brother in law, Dr Anand Kamath, working as a NHS dentist had committed suicide after being bullied by a primary healthcare trust over a complaint about his record keeping ,when this started, was also deemed to be ” irrelevant ” by the judge.

This left Philip Howard a very limited role to help defend her. His description of the circumstances of Dr Perikala writing the letter were illuminating. He told the hearing that he wrote the letter while all the other consultants were on holiday, did not consult them about it and paid a ” rare” home visit to one of her patients without her knowledge. He was only unmasked when the chief executive thought the entire cardiology department were of that view and other consultants objected. He told the tribunal that the patient had received excellent treatment and had no objections.

You would have thought that he would be the key witness that should be cross examined about why he acted alone and what his motive was. But the hospital trust’s lawyers did not call him and the judge ruled that as it was his belief it didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. In other words the man can say anything he liked to a lot of important people and as long as he believed it, it didn’t matter a jot.

Not a level playing field

The trust has taken the matter to the General Medical Council where his behaviour could be questioned and certainly the issue of clinical judgement will not be brushed aside there.

The judge ruled against her but she has asked for the whole matter to reconsidered because she has received new information. Some of the time was spent arguing that she had missed legal deadlines to present new information. Given one side is using full time professional lawyers – and she is having to bring a case while still working elsewhere for Mid Yorks Health Trust – on loan from Epsom and St Helier University Trust. – it is hardly a level legal playing field.

Since the first tribunal hearing in 2017 she has effectively been suspended by the trust on full pay and faced losing her job. There are still two hearings to go.

One has to ask why the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust is spending so much time and taxpayers money on this protracted dispute rather than using the cash to treat patients. When I earlier raised this with the trust they said they didn’t discuss issues about individuals working for them. They have also refused to give me details of how much taxpayer’s money they are spending on disputes.

This story is not over and I shall return to it when there are more developments.

Liz Truss’s thin initiative on equality: Political sloganizing without substance

Liz Truss international trade secretary

We are now getting used to Boris Johnson’s blustering empty slogans on current problems – whether it’s Covid 19 or Brexit. What I hadn’t realised until today it is obviously standard Cabinet speak for this government – as Liz Truss, the international trade secretary and women and equalities minister, has just done the same.

Her much trailed speech at the Centre for Policy Studies was full of crowd pleasing right wing jibes bashing the Left and talking of so called unrepresentative groups campaigning for black and ethnic minorities, gays and women but getting nowhere.

But when it came to what she wanted to offer it was pretty thin gruel. She is moving the Equalities Hub from London to the North and asking the Social Mobility Commission to research the geographical disparities across the country. Wow!

motherhood and apple pie

And some of the speech read – forgive me for being sexist – like ” motherhood and apple pie”.

“Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face, delivering quality housing, cutting commute times, improving public transport, ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors, and improving our schools so every child has the same chances in life,” she opined.

Politicians have been spouting these platitudes for decades. No one is going to stand on a platform of let’s build a new generation of slums, slash public transport and cut school budgets – even if the result of some policies -under Tory governments- has been to do this.

The truth is we already know what has happened to the North and the South West without any more research. I know having looked at life expectancy figures that people in posh Kensington live much longer than those in Blackpool. I have been to Sunderland and Skelmersdale and seen the narrow life chances of people who live there. And by the way if the Tories are so worried about the North- why did both places miss out on Robert Jenrick’s largesse in his town fund scheme- in favour of Cheadle and Southport ( both Tory marginal seats unlike the former two).

Rugged individualism

It is what she going to do about this that matters. Her solution seems to be that rugged individualism will solve the lot and miraculously lift the masses out of years of deprivation. Yet to have a big impact it has to be a big partnership involving local councils, communities and diverse interest groups. She seems to suggest that one compartmentalises equality -looking at social and economic class – and ignoring whether they are black, gay, women or white working class males. In a bizarre sort of way her analysis is almost Marxist – though she would be a million miles away from his solution.

She also doesn’t seem to know that she already possesses the power to do this under the Equality Act.

One reaction from Nell Andrew, GMB National Equality and Inclusion Officer ( no doubt one of those Lefties she doesn’t like) was:

“If Liz Truss is serious in her ‘new fight for fairness’, she could start by enacting Section 1 of the Equality Act that was passed in Parliament 10 years ago and which successive Tory administrations have refused to act on. This would force public institutions to adopt effective polices to reduce the inequalities that result from class or socio-economic barriers.  

“A drastic move away from recognising peoples lived experience, ignoring qualitive evidence, is a dangerous use of smoke and mirrors to attack equality and human rights legislation.  

“All major equality and employment laws came about because of workers and communities organising around issues like racism, sexism and homophobia; fighting for more equal rights for everyone. “

Dr Meghan Campbell from the Oxford Human Rights Hub

fracturing equality

Dr Meghan Campbell, Deputy-Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, and an expert on the UN  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,(CEDAW) put it this way:

“Today’s statement appears to fracture equality between identity characteristics (race, gender etc) and socio-economic equality. The water-tight division between different types of equality is both misleading and highly strained. There are complex interactions between race, gender, disability, migration status, geography, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and poverty. Historically marginalised groups have higher rates of poverty and political and social exclusion. “

“While there are some encouraging aspects focusing in on geographic equality and poverty, but these should not be pitted against race or gender equality as equality is not a zero-sum game.

” Poverty cannot be fully addressed without transforming the institutions and norms that perpetuate poverty against women and people of colour. The statement seems to be moving back to a very individualised vision of equality that ignores how larger structures, norms and institutions can trap people into disadvantage. “

So I am not impressed. If I am very cynical just a week ago she as equalities minister got advance warning that the UN CEDAW committee in Geneva has decided to seek the UK’s response on discrimination in relation to women as the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the Back To 60 pension discrimination case. I wonder if this among other matters prompted her rushed public response.

Another peer suspended in disgrace: Ken Maginnis brands gay MPs as “queers and deviants”

Lord Maginnis Pic credit: BBC

Peers homophobic remarks lead to his suspension

Peers accepted last week a highly critical report from the House of Lords Conduct Committee, chaired by Lord Mance, a former Supreme Court judge, that the peer was guilty of ” bullying” and” harassment” of a security guard and of ” homophobic ” attacks on two gay MPs.

The peer believes he is the subject of persecution by Stonewall because he opposes same sex marriage and even accused Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, as biased against him because she supported Out4Marriage a charity that supports gay marriage. She has made it clear that this did not influence her judgement one jot.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass , a former Ulster Unionist MP who sat as an Independent, had a row with a security guard, Christian Bombolo, when he forgot his security pass and demanded to be let into Parliament without one. The exchange became so toxic that an MP who witnessed the incident, Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston, intervened only to be attacked by the peer using homophobic language.

Like Pollard MP : Pic credit: Twitter

The second incident happened at a meeting of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group which was chaired by Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton. The dinner meeting broke up before Lord Maginnis could ask his question and he blamed Luke Pollard for this.

The report says: “Later in the evening Lord Maginnis sent an email to James Gray MP (the Chair of the APPG), copied to a number of other parliamentarians and to my office, with the subject heading “Discrimination by Homos”.

“Mr Gray replied saying the Mr Gray replied describing Lord Maginnis’s conduct at the meeting and the content of his email as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.

He requested that Lord Maginnis withdraw his remarks and apologise, without which he would not be welcome at any future APPG events.

Lord Maginnis replied that Mr Pollard was “obviously part of the ongoing campaign against me because of MY views on the matter relating to the Cameron initiative [same-sex marriage]” and that he was “getting somewhat irked by being discriminated against so, as for any apology, forget it!”

But Lord Maginnis attended the next meeting which led to another complaint being lodged by Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, who was also a member of the group.

“Unapologetically homophobic and aggressive “

The report says: “Before the meeting began, he saw Lord Maginnis in conversation with James Gray MP. He later understood that Mr Gray had told Lord Maginnis he could not attend the event due to his previous conduct towards Luke Pollard.
“According to Mr Perkins, Lord Maginnis “quickly responded aggressively refusing to leave and implying that the Chair would have to physically remove him”. He overheard Lord Maginnis saying “I am not going to be bullied by queers.”
Mr Perkins said that Lord Maginnis’s “entire tone was unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”.

“It made me feel that it was not a safe environment for—I mean, particularly for people who were gay, but I think there is a sense to which we are all conditioned and harassed by the sense that we’re not all free to be at an event like that. So both the sort of the tone of the remarks and the content of them, I think, was upsetting.”

Maginnis refused to accept finding

Lord Maginnis refused to accept he had done anything wrong but said part of his behaviour was because he was a type 2 diabetic with arthritis and often in pain and had difficulty with his hearing.

This is yet another peer who seems to think that bullying and harassment and his case homophobic views are quite acceptable. While I am sure that most peers do know how to behave, it looks as though a small minority are still clinging on to outdated views and remarkably aggressive behaviour.

As Luke Pollard says in the report that he was “shocked and surprised that this type of behaviour would happen within Westminster”.
“While he did not consider Lord Maginnis’s behaviour during the dinner to be acceptable, it was his remarks in the later email chain he had found most offensive. He said those emails made him feel like a “victim of abuse”.

Search for Justice: New Podcast on the 50s women struggle for their delayed pensions

BackTo60 at the Royal Courts of Justice before the pandemic set in. They are now applying to appeal to the Supreme Court after losing their judicial review

I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.

Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.

He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (info@dnivenassociates.co.uk) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.

The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.

regular series of podcasts

It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now  CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com

He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.

My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.

A millionaire’s wife wins a 95 per cent divorce settlement against a ” lamentable” husband -Landmark Court of Appeal decision

Richard Rothschild and his new lover US model Sherra Pic credit: Instagram and Champion News

Decision to back ex wife by three male judges is greeted with surprise by The Sun and the Daily Mail who were sympathetic to a ” millionaire left penniless “.

This month the Court of Appeal took a rather extraordinary decision to award virtually all the money made by a business couple to his wife after being told a harrowing tale that she had been driven into huge debt caused by continual litigation from the husband and his mother.

Charmaine Le Souza was awarded £1.73m and a disputed £2.3 million condominium in Florida by the Court of Appeal. Her husband was left with £26,000.

Her husband who changed his name to Richard Rothschild in 2016 – he is not related to the Rothschild banking family- was said in the court to have spent nearly £1m in litigation to try to prevent his wife getting the whole business or the apartment forcing her into £900.000 debt – which are rising at £7000 a month with interest.

He was backed by his 76 year old mother, Wanda. who took an active role in pursuing his wife after her son moved in with a young former Playboy model, Sherra Michelle.

Mr Rothschild – original name Richard Pierzchalo-Piasecki – and Mrs de Souza got together at university in 1995 and had been married for 16 years. They have two children aged 9 and 13.

They married in 2005 and separated, in what the judge described as “highly acrimonious circumstances”, in 2016. The judge treated “the relationship as one of 21 years with the quality of the relationship premarriage being indistinguishable from that post-marriage”.

Their two children were said to have “suffered grievously as a result of the breakdown of the marriage”.

What followed was three years of ” destructive litigation ” against the wife including a claim dismissed by a judge that the mother owned the business and even proceedings under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention after the husband abducted the children from Florida to England just after his wife had moved to America with her family.

Her lawyer told the court that the mother and husband lost successive cases but never paid any of the costs, never let the houses they owned in London, never took a job for three years, went on a spending spree to use up assets. Last December a family court judge ruled that the wife should get the business worth £1.85m and the properties in London and he should keep the £2.3 million apartment in Florida. But he laid down conditions that he should pay £225,000 to his ex wife in lieu of her getting her share, If he didn’t the property would be sold and the money given to his ex wife.

When both parties got to court on July it was discovered that he had transferred the flat to his mother without telling his or her lawyers in defiance of the court order.

The appeal was nearly cancelled as a result but went ahead and the three judges ruled that he should have less than he was awarded last December.

The judges argued that given she had a mountain of legal debt to pay off as a result of his actions and they didn’t believe he would contribute financially to the upbringing of his children when they were back in Florida – the award was not as generous as it looked. The business which was successful would provide her with a living.

Meanwhile he intends to marry the young model. She defended him after the case blaming unfair courts in the UK for his downfall.

She commented in the Daily Mail: “Rich and I are getting married no matter what. I stuck by him through all of these legal battles and I am here to stay. We have a real Soulmate connection that is pure and genuine. Rich is a born entrepreneur and he will always take care of his family and the ones he loves. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be with someone as kind, intelligent, handsome, loyal and good-hearted as Rich. Thank you to all of my friends and fans who see our true love for what it is and have supported us since day one. Charmaine we hope you find happiness soon too and stop punishing your children. Not letting Rich see his kids for 3 years is unacceptable.”

The ruling by the judges however will go into case law – and does suggest that in future women will get more than just a half share of the assets -if the man spends three years in vindictive litigation against the woman.

The chances of living longer are getting shorter – new Office of National Statistics figures show only small rise in longevity

Is the DWP not telling the truth over the rise in people living longer?

One of the biggest issues about funding future state pensions and the incessant demands for raising the pension age is the fact that we are all going to live longer. This ministers argue is going to be too expensive for new generations paying into the national insurance fund and therefore retirement should continue to rise, possibly eventually to 75.

This argument was used ruthlessly by the Department for Work and Pensions in the judicial review against the appellants supported by the BackTo60 campaign for not compensating any of the 3.8 million women who have seen their pension age rise from 60 to 66.

To justify this ministers always quote figures up to 2011. The reason why they use this year as a comparator is that it was last year of any big rise in longevity which had risen for decades.

Since then the rise has flattened – in one year it actually fell – and last year was the first in five years that showed a small rise. Next year the ONS is warning will be the first year they will have figures of the effects of Covid-19 – and the hint is that longevity will fall because of the disproportionate deaths among pensioners.

The figures released by the ONS in this report yesterday cover three years from 2017 to 2019 – which statisticians say is more reliable than taking one year in isolation.

As you can see from this graph from the report illustrates longevity has largely flatlined. Women still live longer than men – but the greatest beneficiaries of rising longevity have been men. They are steadily catching up with women and the report wonders whether the huge drop in men smoking and moves from manual and agricultural work to less physical work in the office or behind a computer is the reason for this.

The report says: “Following decades of steady increases in life expectancy in the UK, a marked slowdown in the rate of improvements has been observed since 2011. Between 2002 to 2004 and 2009 to 2011, life expectancy at birth in the UK increased each year by an average of 16.7 weeks for males and 12.7 weeks for females. In contrast, between 2010 to 2012 and 2017 to 2019, these improvements slowed to an average of 6.3 weeks and 4.2 weeks per year for males and females respectively.”

The report also reveals another startling fact. When you compare the UK to many other developed countries both men and women have lost out big time in the longevity stakes. The countries that make up the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) are all near the bottom of the table only beaten by the United States.

Near Bottom of the league UK

Top of the league is fast growing South Korea followed by Denmark, Norway and Finland. The figures are for the number of extra weeks people can expect to live – comparing 2018 with 2011. Note again with the exception of Wales and the USA men have been the biggest gainers not women.

So while we all are being expected to wait longer for our pension in the UK, our extra weeks of life expectancy fall well below many comparable developed countries. We are being cheated – or at least not given the full facts – by our political leaders. So don’t believe any facile claims we have a world beating system for pensioners. Far from it.

Now the figures for this small rise in longevity are not uniform throughout the UK.

Another report says:

  • The lowest regional life expectancy for both males and females in 2017 to 2019 was observed in the North East; the North East’s life expectancy at birth was also lower than in the countries of Wales and Northern Ireland but higher than in Scotland.
  • Males living in the four most southerly regions of England had life expectancies at birth exceeding 80 years, whereas regions of the midlands and the north fell short of 80 years; London exceeded the North East region by almost three years.

Women live longest in the Outer Hebrides

The largest local area increase in life expectancy between 2009 to 2011 and 2017 to 2019 for males at birth was in Westminster, while for females it was in Scotland’s council area of Na h-Eileanan Siar. ( better known as the Outer Hebrides).

Live longer in London, die sooner in Blackpool

The statisticians comment:

“The rate of growth in life expectancy in London continues to surpass that occurring in other regions and the constituent countries of the UK. This has resulted in London now having the highest life expectancy for both males and females among regions in England.

“Four of the top five local areas with the highest male life expectancy in 2017 to 2019 were London boroughs, while three were for females. Since 2001 to 2003 traditional deprived parts of London such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney have seen strong gains in life expectancy over the time series. In fact, 17 of the top 20 local areas with the strongest growth in male life expectancy since 2001 to 2003 were London boroughs. This contrasts with Ceredigion where male life expectancy has only grown by 0.8 years since 2001 to 2003. These patterns add to the growing inequality observed across different areas of the UK over the past decade.”

inequality

This is heightened by other observations :

“Overall, for the UK, the difference was 11.3 years between Westminster, with the highest life expectancy at birth, and Glasgow City, with the lowest.

” For females, the local area gap in life expectancy at birth in England was 7.7 years between Westminster (87.2 years) and Blackpool (79.5 years), meaning Blackpool was the lowest in England for males and females. In Scotland, the gap stood at 5.5 years between East Renfrewshire (84.0 years) and Glasgow City (78.5 years). “

These findings must call into question whether there should be such a rush to raise the pension age – since the UK is both lagging behind other countries in life expectancy, has a huge inequality between the prosperous South and London and the North East ( Red Wall MPs please note). Finally the DWP is misrepresenting what is happening – both in its evidence to the judicial review over the raising of the pension age for women and to the nation as a whole. Longer life expectancy is tailing off not growing anywhere near the rate it did when decisions were made to raise the pension age.

50s Women to apply directly to Supreme Court to ask them to hear pensions case

Supreme Court; Pic Credit:BBC News

Lawyers for Backto60 and the two complainants decided today to apply to the Supreme Court for permission to bring their case to the highest court in the UK.

The decision was taken after two of the Judges in the Court of Appeal, who heard their case,  Lord Justice Sir Nicholas Underhill and Lady Justice Dame Vivien Rose, refused permission for them to go to the Supreme Court.

Applicants are allowed to go to the Supreme Court directly to plead their case to be heard if they are turned down by the Court of Appeal.

The decision was announced by Joanne Welch, the founder of Back to 60, appropriately during an interview with the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour.

The decision comes after the Court of Appeal comprehensively rejected their case in a judgement announced on Tuesday. The judges ruled that the first judge , Ms Justice Lang, should not have allowed the judicial review to go ahead because it was a long time after the 1995 Act raising the pension age for women was passed. They agreed with the arguments put forward by Sir James Eadie, the Treasury Counsel, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions that they had been adequately consulted about the rise in the pension age from 60 to 65 announced in 1995 and later extended to 66 under the Pensions Act in 2011.

Some 3.8 million women were affected by the change which Michael Mansfield, Henrietta Hill and Adam Straw, argued amounted to both direct and indirect age and sex discrimination and had led to women born in the 1950s being driven into poverty and ill health. This was rejected by the judge, chaired by Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls.

Joanne Welch told Woman’s Hour “I know that Julie Delve and Karen Glynn have been actively considering next steps. I believe that they are going to go ahead with an application for permission to have this heard in the Supreme Court”.

Plans to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case are now being drawn up by the legal team after Joanne Welch confirmed that the decision was taken at a meeting today.

50s women pension judgement: How the Court of Appeal rejected their case

Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls

I have spent this morning reading the 21,000 word judgement of the Court of Appeal led by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton.

For the faint hearted I warn you this will make grim reading. But I think the women who have fought so hard to get their pensions back need to be properly informed about the logic used by the judges to come to their decision. It doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Their judgement will cause widespread misery and angst for the women themselves and total delight for the government, ministers, the Department for Work and Pensions and the small number of vocal detractors, mainly from the financial advice and private pensions industry, who didn’t want the women to get a penny.

Appeal on four grounds

The appeal was on four main grounds each of which were dismissed by the judges. Since it is a judicial review it depended a lot on case law which ranged from an immigration case, the bedroom tax, to a sex change case and to EU law and the Convention of Human Rights. It even included a novel way of approaching the law to consultation from Michael Mansfield QC.

To a lay person the case law might sound bizarre but the aim of the lawyers representing the women is to draw out rulings from these diverse set of cases to benefit the cause of the 50swomen to get their money back.

The four grounds for appeal were age discrimination according to an article from the European Convention of Human Rights; indirect sex discrimination or sex/age discrimination;notification and delay.

On the first case the judges rejected it. – citing they could not overrule an Act of Parliament.

“Despite that evidence and despite the sympathy that we, like the members of the Divisional Court, feel for the Appellants and other women in their position, we are satisfied that this is not a case where the court can interfere with the decisions taken through the Parliamentary process. “

They did concede that women got lower state pensions than men.

Women pensioners’ life expectancy – a strain on public fiances

“DWP figures in August 2018 for the mean weekly amount of state pension for men was £158.87 and for women £131.27.  Though they may have shorter life expectancy, men will still receive much more state pension than women even taking into account that women live for two years longer.  That does not, however, undermine the point that the SSWP [ Secretary of State for DWP] makes that longer life expectancy for women places a strain on public finances,(my emphasis) even if they would have received a lower pension over the years 60 – 65 than a man would receive.”

They rejected the indirect and age/ sex discrimination saying any EU directives allowing a differential age for men and women were a temporary measure.

women carry out 60 per cent more unpaid work than men

The judges note the argument that 50s women are hard done by. They quote facts” that women carry out an average of 60 per cent more unpaid work than men; 86 per cent of single parents are women and single parents have a higher risk of poverty than any other household type.  In the 50 – 64 year old age group, women are much more likely to give up work than men because of caring responsibilities.  The Appellants submit that it is therefore indirectly discriminatory, subject to the question of justification, for the state pension to be withdrawn from them because their gender adversely affected their ability to earn a living.”

But they recoil from accepting the arguments for fear that a victory would lead to a flood of new demands from other groups.

“it becomes clear what a significant expansion of the law would result from such a broad application … It is undoubtedly the case that many groups have traditionally suffered discrimination in the workplace because their protected characteristic meant that there were fewer opportunities open to them for advancement in stable, well-paid work.  That is the case not only for women but for disabled people, for lone parents, for some BME groups and for transgender people.”

They conclude that the state pension is a universal not a means tested benefit therefore it should not be used to right problems caused by discrimination – that should be left to other measures in the political field.

“In our judgement.. there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group.  The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone.”

DWP gave ” adequate and reasonable notification”

On consultation they buy the argument from the DWP that there was enough consultation going back to 1991 when the pension age change was first debated and they cast doubt on even sending a direct mail to everyone on the grounds that people might not read it anyway..

” We therefore dismiss Ground 3 of the appeal on the basis that there was no duty to notify those affected by the change in state pension age and that the Divisional Court were entitled to conclude as a fact that there has been adequate and reasonable notification given by the publicity campaigns implemented by the Department over a number of years.”

Criticism of Ms Justice Lang

Finally they condemn Ms Justice Lang for allowing the judicial review in the first place on the grounds that it was already out of time.

They castigate her for extending the time limit.

“Unlawful legislation is not a continuing unlawful act in the sense that the time limit for challenging it by way of judicial review rolls forward for as long as the legislation continues to apply.  If that were the test, there would effectively be no time limit for challenging primary or secondary legislation or for that matter administrative conduct which continues to affect a claimant unless or until the action is withdrawn or revised.”   

Lawyers for BackTo60 have asked the judges for permission to appeal their judgement.

Their judgement today shows what a big struggle it is to convince people of their case but it doesn’t meant it is wrong to fight this injustice for 3.8 million people.