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

20180804_105304.jpg

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

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

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

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

 

20180802_173046.jpg

The quay at Blakeney

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

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

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

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

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

20180803_172939.jpg

A typical creek on Blakeney Marshes

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

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

royal-courts-justice-passes-misuse-602677

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

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

stephen lloyd

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

DWP-Department-for-work-and-pensions-500x320

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

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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

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

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

tTjCgYZl_400x400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the government  should investigate this instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Official figures reveal a disturbing rise in right wing extremism among UK youth

maxresdefault

Scenes from the right wing demo in defence of extremist Tommy Robinson pic credit: You Tube

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The somewhat violent demonstration in London this weekend in support of jailed right wing extremist Tommy Robinson was foreshadowed by figures released under three months ago by the Home Office.

The figures come from the highly controversial Prevent programme which most people see as a plan to catch young people  being radicalised by so called Islamic State and Al Qaeda before they commit atrocities.

What is not  as well known is that the Prevent programme also tackles people radicalised by racist and Fascist organisations who aim to commit violent acts against Muslims, Sikhs and other ethnic minorities, including Africans and East Europeans.

Just over two months ago the Home Office published a report and analysis of the latest figures of who is being targeted.

These are people who if one follows the official guidance are those who  have “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

The disturbing fact is that the latest figures for 2016-17 reveal there has been a RISE in the number of young people radicalised by right wing extremism while there has been a FALL in the number of people radicalised by perversions of Islam.

The report says: “There was a 28% increase in the number of extreme right wing referrals in 2016/17 (968) when compared with 2015/16 (759); whilst referrals for concerns related to Islamist extremism decreased by 26% over the same time (2015/16, 4,997; 2016/17, 3,704).
The proportion of panel discussions [ most serious cases] regarding extreme right wing related concerns has increased by 44%, from 188 in 2015/16 to 271 in 2016/2017. Similarly, the number of individuals receiving Channel support for extreme right wing related concerns has also increased over the same time period by 27% (2015/16, 98; 2016/17, 124).
This is in contrast to individuals receiving support for concerns related to Islamist extremism,which has decreased by 30% between 2015/16 (264) and 2016/17 (184).”

The right wing extremists were almost exclusively male ( 902 out of 968) while only 77 per cent of those monitored for Islamic extremism only 77 per cent were men.

The largest proportion in both groups were teenagers aged between 15 and 20 with right wing extremists being almost exclusively male.

There was also a considerable variation between regions for the two groups.

“Of the 3,704 individuals referred for concerns related to Islamist extremism, the largest proportion was from London (1,039; 28%), whereas of the 968 individuals referred for concerns related to right wing extremism, the largest proportion was from the North East (171; 18%).

Of the 760 individuals discussed at a Channel panel for concerns related to Islamist extremism, the largest proportion was from London (214; 28%), whereas of the 271 individuals discussed at a Channel panel for concerns related to right wing extremism, the largest population was from the West Midlands (47; 17%).”

This suggests a considerable divide in the country – with  multi cultural London having fewer right wing extremists than the deprived North East and the West Midlands where there have been racial tensions.

The general message is that Britain is becoming more divided and that racism and Fascism among the young is rising, particularly in areas where there are fewer people from ethnic minorities.

This was born out by a chat with a person  at the Race on the Agenda conference on mental health reform  in London last week who was dealing with the Prevent programme in Dorset. Here it was in the rural areas where young poorly educated men who had seen few immigrants appeared to be attracted to right wing extremism. The issues raised by  Brexit had also been a factor in highlighting tensions.

Whatever it is this is a deeply disturbing trend and it suggests that focus on the rise of all types of extremism should concentrate equally on right wing racists as much as Islamic extremists.

 

 

 

 

The Downing Street state pension robbery

Downing Street thieves

I wonder if Mr Plod has a good sense of humour. It is a good photoshop. Pic Credit: Paul Downes @CallmeDownsie

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The mantra  that we cannot afford to pay the 3.9 million  50s women   their pensions until they are 65 and soon 66 is based on the premise that there is no money in the National Insurance Fund. The big question is why?

I have already in a previous report for #Backto60  shown that the accounts of the National Insurance Fund are in fact in surplus. But detractors point out that they soon won’t be if the government hands back £77 billion owed to the women.

But what if we have reached  this situation because the government has raided a fund  which is 91 per cent spent on pensions for other benefits. And what if the Treasury deliberately decided to  undermine the fund by avoiding paying any money into it?

This is what I have found out by investigating the history of this fund.

The original fund was set up in 1911 by Lloyd George and did not cover pensions – but helped pay  medical bills for wage earners and provided  unemployment benefit for  some workers. Employers and employees had to make compulsory contributions.

Pensions were introduced for those over 70  in 1908 and were means tested and supervised by local councillors. People could be disqualified from getting a pension if they had been imprisoned for ten years, weren’t of good character and were drunkards. The money came from general taxation. There is a House of Commons library report about the act here.

The real major changes came under the Attlee government which set up the welfare state. The National Insurance Act, 1946 introduced compulsory NI for all working people except married women. It set the pension age at 60 for women and 65 for men. Pensions, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and a maternity allowance and death grant were paid out of it. There is a useful summary in the National Archives here. But it was run as a ” pay as you go ” scheme with money topped by the Treasury.

It is the attack on these provisions which began under the Thatcher government in the 1980s that has led to the 50s women losing out.

An excellent report by the House of Commons library describes what happened. It is worth quoting parts in full.

“In each year from 1948 to 1989, the National Insurance Fund received a grant from the
Treasury, known as the Treasury (or Consolidated Fund) Supplement. The origins of the
Supplement lay in the Beveridge Report, which envisaged a tripartite scheme of contributions to the Fund, whereby the Treasury would pay one third of the cost of unemployment benefits and one sixth of the cost of pensions and other benefits. In practice, the level of the Supplement tended to be around 18% of contribution income, a level at which it was fixed by the Social Security Act 1973.

“From 1980, the value of the Supplement began to decline, reflecting partly the growing level of contribution income and partly the constraining of spending on benefits by the abolition of earnings linking of the pension and other long-term benefits and earnings-related supplements to unemployment benefit. By 1988 the Fund’s contribution income exceeded its benefit expenditure, leading to a steady growth in the balance of the Fund (from £5.3bn in April 1986 to £10.4bn in April 1989 ).

In this context, the then Secretary of State for Social Security, John Moore, stated in 1989 that:

“The tripartite principle is already effectively a dead letter. The rationale behind it has
gone, and the Supplement has been shrinking steadily as a proportion of the Fund’s
income from about one-third in 1948. It now stands at only 5%. We consider that there
is now no need for it all. The £26bn of expenditure from the Fund is fully covered by
contributory income and the abolition of the Supplement will have absolutely no effect
on that expenditure”
“The Supplement was abolished by the Social Security Act 1989.”

It was a disaster – the fund which then  had  big surplus – went heading into the red – as it was now being raided for the full cost of unemployment and sickness benefit at a time of high unemployment.

So in 1993 the Major government had to partly retract by reintroducing a Treasury supplement because money in the fund had fallen by a staggering 50 per cent  due  to benefit pay outs as well as pensions. Pensioners were robbed.

But  the government fixed the rules so it was much less generous than the  system they bequeathed from Attlee. As the report says :

“There are a number of differences between the Treasury Grant and the Treasury
Supplement. First, the levels of Treasury Grant are set by reference to benefit expenditure rather than to contribution income. Second, and more significantly, whereas the Treasury Supplement was paid annually, irrespective of whether it was actually needed to finance a particular year’s expenditure, the Treasury Grant is paid at the discretion of the Secretary of State.

“The amount of Grant paid to the Fund was limited to a maximum of 20% of forecast
benefit expenditure in 1993-94, and to a maximum of 17% of forecast benefit expenditure in subsequent years.”

The truth of the matter is that the rules were skewed so the Treasury never had to pay out any money.  From 1989 to 2014 if the Treasury had returned to its original support  under  the Major, Blair and Brown governments, the Tory Liberal coalition and Cameron’s government, billions of pounds would be available now to help pay the 50s women. Instead as we know successive governments ruthlessly decided to solve the problem by raising the pension age.

In top of this the government also amended the benefits that would be paid out from the fund – including some new benefits like paternity benefit for example.

Anyone who believes the changes that happened – both the removal of Treasury contribution to the fund and the subsequent rise in the pension age – was a happy coincidence is deluding themselves. You can see here  in an article in the Daily Express what  George Osborne, the former chancellor, told investors at the Global Investment conference in 2013. Scroll down to the video

George-Osborne-speaking-at-the-conference-815768

George Osborne speaking at the 2013 Global Investment Conference

He said: “Tackling entitlement costs and the cost of an ageing society is a real challenge for Western democratic societies and in the UK we’ve brought forward the increase in pension age to 66 in this decade; we’ve brought forward the increase to 67 in the next decade and actually because of some reform taken some years ago the female pension age is increasing to 65 as we speak.”

“These changes, when you’re a finance minister, the savings dwarf almost everything else you do.

“They are absolutely enormous savings and they enable you to go on providing a decent retirement income. So you’re not necessarily reducing the entitlement of people who are retired you’re just increasing the age when that entitlement kicks in. ”

“Of course when these were first put into practice these pensions systems life expectations was dramatically less.

“I’ve found it one of the less controversial things we’ve done and probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done.”

Need I say more. The UK has one of the lowest and least generous state pension in the developed world and it has been bought about by making huge savings against 50s women.

 

Theresa May’s risky gamble with reforming an ” institutionally racist” mental health act

Professor_Sir_Simon_Wessely

Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the mental health review

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

With very little publicity and dwarfed by Brexit  Theresa May has committed herself to a major reform of the Mental Health Act. Last year she convened a meeting at Downing Street and appointed a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sir Simon Wessely. to conduct a review.

This month it published an interim report with a lot of warm words, some constructive proposals and a public admission that far too many people were locked up and a disproportionate number were from  the black and ethnic minority communities. A report in the Guardian on  May 1 highlighted some of the issues.

This Friday the charity Race on the Agenda  will host a conference at the University of East London on the  Stratford campus tackling the issues head on by addressing the issue of institutional racism in the mental health service.

They will have a lot to go from the interim review report which firmly  puts the case for change by highlighting the poor  and  often inhumane treatment of people of black African and Caribbean heritage in the worse case scenarios results in deaths in police custody.

It also appears to want to redress the balance between the role of the police and the NHS.

The interim report states: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Among some of the salient points raised include phasing out the use of police cells to detain mentally ill people and using ambulances rather than police cars to transport mentally ill  people and increasing NHS involvement by looking at NHS England taking responsibility for  commissioning of health services in police custody.

This week’s conference will  go further than the report by looking at the culture and attitudes towards black people – the stereotyping, unconscious bias  and sometimes politically incorrect racism – as well as the role psychiatry has in defining who is mentally ill.

So why should this be a risky gamble for Theresa May ? The answer is the countervailing trends in society which could mitigate against reform.

First there is austerity. The state of some mental health hospitals , including one not far from the conference in Tottenham, have to be seen to be believed because there isn’t the money to provide adequate services. Thus all the reforms in the world could fall down because there are not the staff nor proper facilities to help people.

Then there is current hostile environment which led to the Windrush scandal , the rise of Islamaphobia and the Prevent strategy  which creates a climate of fear and fuels latent racism and fear among the white community of “the other”. The fight against terrorism can morph into discrimination against  particular ethnic groups in society.

So in the worst case scenario all Theresa May will be left with is warm words and no action – which, given the hope rising from the mental health act review, could make matters worse than they are now.

That is why it is important that conferences looking at issues the report may find difficult to confront – such as institutional racism – are being held and issues thoroughly aired.

 

 

Taking the 50s women protest to the doors of the Department of Work and Pensions

 

one voice

The protesters outside the DWP under the #One Voice umbrella

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The campaign for justice for the 50s women denied their pensions has come home to the Department of Work and Pensions.

A group representing all shades of opinion demanding redress for the 3.7 million women who have lost out hired an old London bus to protest outside Parliament, Downing Street and Caxton House, the DWP headquarters to drive the message home.

Under the banner #One Voice it included a number of #Waspi groups from London, Chichester, Bognor Regis to name but a few. On board backing the campaign was the Barnet blogger, Theresa Musgrove, who runs the @brokenbarnet  website.

 

20180508_131056_Richtone(HDR).jpg

Waspi supporters from London with a banner – the guy in the background is the DWP’s privatised security guard from G4S who was pretty accommodating given it was a surprise visit

The campaign was supported by lawyer Michael Mansfield who wants to bring a legal case against the DWP  presently represented by Guy Opperham, the pensions minister and MP for Hexham,. who is implacably opposed to giving any concessions to anybody.

He appealed for unity among the campaigners – warning that divide and rule between various factions – would mean they could be picked off by ministers.

The 50s women used a battlebus obtained by Angela Taylor to make as much noise as possible particularly in its thrice trip round Parliament Square, causing both tourists and MPs to turn their heads. No doubt the message would have got back to Japan given the number of pictures taken.

The choice of the bus added to the occasion. It was a London RT model – the workhorse of  London Transport for decades – and built pretty much at the same time as many of the 50s women were born.  Reliable, dependable and capable – it was very much symbolic of the women who have been robbed of their pensions.

Reliable London us

The pensions battle bus with Yvette Greenway  who works in association with #BackTo60 with her trusty loudhailer

Of course the government is still saying it will do nothing. A letter sent to Pauline Hinder by the DWP ministerial correspondence unit ( ministers  like Guy Opperham have better things to do than reply to the general public like watching the Eurovision song contest) says :

” The Government has no plans to revisit the policy on women’s State Pension age and does not intend to make further concessions….

And according to the ministers they are striking a blow for equality.

“Changes to the State Pension age put right a long lasting inequality which was based on an outdated rationale that women were dependent on their husband’s incomes.”

Bizarrely this is exactly what many of the 50s women  were dependent on – the minister is just rewriting history to suit himself.

And mindful that the ministry may soon to be taken to court for not telling people about the change they are on the defensive..

“In the years after the 1995 legislation (1995 to 2011) this equalisation was frequently reported in the media and debated at length in Parliament. People were notified with leaflets, an extensive advertising campaign was carried out, and later individual letters were posted out. Throughout this period the Department has been providing individuals with their most up-to-date State Pension age when they have requested a Pension statement.”

And also you aren’t entitled to a pension  and we can’t afford to pay it anyway. We just take your contributions and do what we like with it.

“The National Insurance scheme operates on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. It is inaccurate to characterise the State Pension as an individual contract where people get out what they pay in. It is today’s contributors who pay for today’s pensioners.

“There is no surplus in the Fund that can simply be drawn upon. The Government Actuary recommends a surplus is kept in the National Insurance fund to cover day to day variations in spend. The surplus is lent to the Government while that happens – it cannot simply be spent again.”

I have a feeling that ministers may not get away with this if people continue to press them – the Conservative government can’t afford to lose 3.7 million votes when it is neck and neck with Labour.