Exclusive: The 4.6 million men who “retired” at 60 to get a pension top up paid by the taxpayer

DWP’s extraordinary disclosure

Successive governments extended a 1983 “men only national insurance subsidy” for 35 years and broke a promise to women born in the 1950s to offer them similar terms

More than 4.65 million men aged over 60 have had the last five years of their national insurance contributions paid by the state, the Department for Work and Pensions has disclosed.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last week when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. She is a BackTo60 supporter and had been pursuing the government over this issue

The scheme was launched by the Thatcher government in 1983 when it was reeling from large scale unemployment even after its popularity had soared through victory in the Falklands War. Extraordinarily the scheme was only wound up in 2018 just two years ago and 35 years after it was launched.

Thatcher ‘s first government: Lord Carrington, foreign secretary, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe. Pic credit : BBC The Thatcher Archive

The scheme- called auto credits – was announced in the 1983 Budget by the late Sir Geoffrey Howe , then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as one of four measures to get down the unemployment count which was over three million.

In his March Budget he announced:

“Some 90,000 men between the ages of 60 and 65 now have to register at an unemployment benefit office if they wish to secure contribution credits to protect their pension rights when they reach 65. From April, they will no longer have to do this.

Even if those concerned subsequently take up part-time or low-paid work on earnings which fall below the lower earnings limit for contributions, their pension entitlement will be fully safeguarded. ( my emphasis)”

Unemployment did fall and was half that level by 2018 when the scheme was dropped.

Yet neither successive chancellors Nigel Lawson, John Major , Norman Lamont,Kenneth Clarke , Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling did anything to repeal it.

In fact under Kenneth Clarke in 1993 the opposite happened. He decided as 50s born women were going to face waiting longer for their pensions, they should get some help. This was adopted by Labour in a leaflet issued in 2002 on pensions which announced it would be extended to 50s women from 2010 when the pension age for women started to rise.

But the Brown government then reneged on this in 2009 after the financial crisis.

Promises to 50s women reneged

An explanatory memorandum to changes in pension legislation said :

“When the Government published its plans for state pension age equalisation in 1993, the intention then was that as women’s pension age increased gradually to 65, autocredits would become available to them on the same basis as for men. This was in part to compensate for the increase in the number of years women would otherwise have to pay National Insurance contributions for in order to qualify for a full basic pension.

” This approach has since been reviewed, for two reasons. Firstly, the qualifying age for Pension Credit (the income-related benefit currently payable to men and women at 60 without jobseeking conditions attached) is set to increase to 65 by 2020 in line with female state pension age. Without the proposed change, autocredits would increasingly apply mainly to people who could afford not to work or claim benefit….

“Secondly, the reduction in the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic pension to 30 and the improvements in the crediting arrangements for carers under the measures introduced by the Pensions Act 2007 will mean that the need for autocredits to protect state pension entitlement will be significantly reduced….

” This instrument amends the Credits Regulations to provide that autocredits will be available to men only for the tax years in which they have reached what would be pension age for a woman of the same age, up to and including the last tax year before the one in which they reach age 65. Men born on 6 October 1954 or later,…, will not qualify for the credits.”

This meant it was phased out in 2018.

Meanwhile the new Tory and Liberal coalition elected in 2010 decided to raise the pension age further to 66 and also planned a new pension raising the qualification period to 35 years. The main architect was the pensions minister , Steve Webb, who now has a top job at Royal London Insurance. In an article in the Telegraph in September 2017 he backed men who could have overpaid NI contributions to claim the money back.

Yet another scandal

Now this entire scandal is yet another example of unfair treatment to 50s women.

The woman who raised this with the DWP is one of a number who has not got enough national insurance contributions to get a full pension. She falls short by three years and will have to pay them £3000 to make up the years to get another £400 a year.

A man – one of the 4.65 million who was covered by auto credits- would have to pay nothing. That is hardly fair. And he could take a low paid job and still not pay NI contributions as they would be covered by the state.

More seriously it does knock a hole in the DWP case that the raising of the pension age was an equality measure to create a level playing field with men.

It is hardly a level playing field if men on this huge scale are getting their national insurance contributions for free. What started as a measure for 90,000 ended up helping 4.6 million. No wonder the DWP were not happy to have to disclose this.

Roll on the appeal to the judicial review brought by BackTo60. Michael Mansfield could have a field day with these new facts.

The damning FOI reply from the DWP that revealed the 4.6 million figure

How the raising of the pension age for 50s born women has fueled poverty, ill health and depression

Campaigners at the Royal Courts of Justice.

A new and highly detailed research study by King’s College, London reveals that the lowest paid women born in the 1950s are now substantially worse off because of the government’s decision to raise their pension age from 60 to 66.

The damning findings confirm why the BackTo60 campaign are right to highlight the inequalities and seek to overturn a judicial review in July which refused to provide any compensation for 3.8 million women.

Since the situation is now even worse because of the huge death rate among the elderly it also shows how sensible it will be for the organisation to highlight the issue in two films that will be backed by a crowdfunder. The link to their crowdfunder, which has already raised over £5000 is here.

The academics at King’s College compared the fate of those who had already retired at 60 with those who were having to wait for their pension until they are 65 or 66.

They found the change in pension age widened inequality, increased poverty by six to eight points, caused much more depression and mental health issues and also made people more likely to succomb to additional health problems like diabetes or arthritis.

It was specifically bad for women who had to work longer in low paid jobs often involving manual labour, such as working in care homes.

In their academic language it says the “increases had a negative impact on health: women aged 60–64 years are no longer eligible to collect their pension due to the reform exhibit worse mental and physical health scores (PCSs) and higher prevalence of clinical depression than women of the same age unaffected by the reform.

Moreover, longer extensions of SPA [ State Pension Age] led to higher declines in mental health than shorter extensions. Crucially, the negative health effect of SPA postponement is confined to women from lower-grade routine occupations, and it is largely driven by longer exposure to adverse psychological and physical stressors. As a result, the reform had the undesirable consequence of increasing health inequality by occupational grade, as evidence points to a 12 percentage-point increase in the probability of depressive symptomatology.”

You can read the report, published in Health Economics, here.

Michael Mansfield

It should put a spring in the step of lawyers like Michael Mansfield, who are fighting for BackTo60 in the forthcoming judicial review appeal and its findings ought to worry the Department for Work and Pensions as it exposes the damage they have done. Though making anyone there or in Downing Street remorseful for anything is a tall order.

Covid-19: NHS chaos and DWP indifference lead to tragedy for one 50s born woman

And why the BackTo60 Facebook crowdfunder is essential to bring these sad facts for many more to light

The family of Ray and Lesley Myers with daughters Nicola and Jenny in happier times.

This is a tragic tale that I suspect is being repeated across the UK now we have the largest number of deaths in Europe. It gives a little glimpse into the human cost behind the cold harsh statistics of the daily death toll. Her daughter contacted me and she agreed to be interviewed.

Ray and Lesley Myers thought they had their retirement well planned. He would get his pension at 65 and one year later she would get hers at 60.

He was a successful Welsh speaking self employed builder in North Wales. They had a comfortable four bedroomed house and two lovely daughters.

Then at 60 Ray developed cancer and was unable to work. They downsized from their four bed house to a one bed apartment in Chester.

Through the help of the NHS Countess of Chester Hospital & The Hospice of the Good Shepherd he was tackling his cancer and they were still looking forward to many more years together.

This winter Ray got pneumonia and went into the Countess of Chester Hospital. He got better , came out of hospital, but then fell ill again and was re-admitted.

Unfortunately for him he came back just as the Covid-19 was starting to spread across the UK. The doctors there also tried to press him to sign a ” do not resuscitate” form.

According to Lesley Myers the hospital did not have the right equipment to safeguard the staff or patients relying on paper masks and aprons. But they did regularly test him for Covid- 19. Three tests were negative, the last one was positive.

From there he deteriorated rapidly but his family heard nothing from the hospital and couldn’t visit him. Finally they allowed Lesley to visit him and provided her for the first time a gown and a medical mask. By then he was in a coma and close to death.

On April 7 aged 70 he died. The family have not been able to organise a proper funeral.

But the hospital have followed up her case and have got proper protection equipment and are changing the way they handle future cases.

Lesley then encountered all the problems from the Department for Work and Pensions. She was hours on the phone trying to claim bereavement benefit. The DWP just cut her off.

But they acted very quickly to stop his state pension,PIP, and ban her from being able to drive his mobility car. They still haven’t bothered to collect it one month later and it is parked at the apartment.

She found herself left with living on £420 a month – £320 from her own PIP as she is disabled and just £25 a week bereavement benefit. The widow’s pension has been abolished by the DWP. She has bills of £150 a month for council tax and another £100 for the apartment management charge.

She said :” How I am supposed to survive on this on this amount?
” I do have savings but do not know how long I will live for so do not wish to rely solely on this as I’m sure you can appreciate – I am only 64! “

“I am fortunate to have the support of my daughter and some savings but I ask you this for someone with nothing and all payments stopped immediately how would they now continue?
“I am very concerned for other people left in the same situation or worse off than myself.
” I do not like to complain, I have expressed my sincere gratitude to the hospital for their care and my daughters have raised nearly £3000 for them and the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in memory of my husband and in order to help them both at a difficult time.
I feel like a statistic, and this is not right. I am a person who also needs to survive”.

She said her situation would have far better if she had already got her pension as of right.

” I have supported BackTo60 for a long time and I feel it is disgusting that they changed the pension age without properly informing people. I have paid in since I was 15. We are entitled to that money and there should be full restitution.”

BackTo60 have just launched a £10,000 crowdfunder so they can keep the issue in the public eye right up until the judicial review appeal in July.

They intend to use the money for a film that will highlight how Covid-19 has made life worse for many 50s women already suffering in poverty and having difficulty making ends meet.

You can donate to the crowdfunder here. It is something that needs exposing.

Coronavirus: Why more than ever BackTo60 were right to challenge that judicial review decision over #50sWomen pensions

My radio interview which is now on the BackTo60 site

One of the most disturbing things coming back to the UK after nearly three months is how the country is now gripped in an inevitable lock down without any sign of an exit – as this nasty virus – Covid-19 – takes a grip on the nation.

For women and men in their 60s the situation is particularly dire. They should be protected but are not. Instead they have the problems of either being pushed out of work and put at the mercy of the hopeless and half finished Universal Credit system or the government’s long delayed payments for the self employed for any money.

They know they are a high risk group recognised by the World Health Organisation ( WHO) but they are caught between surviving on savings or going out to work – including for the NHS and in care homes – knowing they stand a greater chance of getting the virus. The two scenarios I illustrated in my article for Byline Times.

But probably the most pleasing thing that happened while I was away was the decision of the Court of Appeal to grant an appeal from the two 50swomen on behalf of BackTo60 on all grounds after the disappointing judicial review decision. which rejected their case.

The women I know have a long wait until July for the hearing but if they hadn’t taken this step they would be nowhere under this present Tory government.

The applicants at the time would not have known how damaging the coronavirus would be but fortunately they got their right to appeal before the courts closed down to hear most new cases. The latest situation at the Court of Appeal can be seen in their latest briefing( April 17).

The fact that BackTo60 has got an appeal on all grounds is significant given the judicial review rejected their case on all grounds and the judge who decided this also wanted to stop an appeal.

Lawyers for the claimants were confident that they could win permission to appeal – and they were right.

At the time detractors – many of whom should have known better – were making wild claims about the crowd funding appeal – which was set at a specific figure on the advice of the lawyers- and trying to stir up animosity against BackTo60. They did not succeed and the result is the issue remains very much alive.

The other key result is that for the government the issue will have to be faced again – ministers have not succeeded in squashing the campaign in the courts. The government knows it will have to argue its case again and 3.8 million women will have a voice at the Royal Courts of Justice to say why they were mistreated and swindled out of their pensions.

I have given a radio interview which is also on BackTo60 and you can listen to it at the top of this blog.

50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review the first time

On Byline Times: WHO guidelines ignored to shield over 60s because UK “not a developing nation.”

My first new article on Byline Times reveals the reason why the government is sticking to shield only those in their 70s rather than follow World Health Organisation guidelines to shield the over 60s. It is because the UK thinks this should only be applied to developing nations.

This disputed by WHO who point out that 95 per cent on the deaths in Europe are among the over 60s with France, Italy and Spain responsible for the vast majority of European deaths.

The article highlights the plight of people in their 60s – most of them still working because of the rise in the pension age – with some left with no money as jobs collapse and others working in the NHS where the risk of Covid- 19 is at its highest.

Read the full story on Byline Times here

Big pay out for 3.8 million 50swomen will never happen – Tim Loughton MP

Tim Loughton MP

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s State Pension Inequalities is to be revived and will try and persuade the Tory government to make a offer to the 50swomen.

Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham, used his response to the Queen’s Speech, to say both he and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea, East will approach ministers again to try and get some money. Mr Loughton was returned with an increased majority while Carolyn Harris saw her majority severely reduced.

If the deal is anything like the last one it is likely to cost some £2 billion and probably only cover a small portion of the women who may get £73 a week. Before the election Mr Loughton said as a condition BackTo60 would have to drop its legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the Daily Express.

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Tim Loughton’s appeal before the election

He used his latest speech to attack Labour for offering to spend £58 billion over five years to remedy the situation describing it as having ” disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women. “

This is the full extract of his speech on the issue:

“It is an issue that featured rather disgracefully during the election campaign, and it is that of the so-called WASPI women.

Many on this side and, of course, on the other side have championed the case of the 1950s pension women who were hit disproportionately by those changes in the pension age under previous Governments. Many of us have been lobbying the Government to acknowledge that disproportionate disadvantage and to do something about it.

I will call on the Government again and, working with my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, we will continue to put pressure on the Government to acknowledge that and do something about it.

The Labour Opposition’s uncosted promise of £58 billion, which did not appear in their manifesto, disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women.

That amount was almost half the NHS budget, and it was never going to happen. I do hope that we can come up with a realistic, deliverable, doable offer for those women who have suffered and are suffering disproportionately, because that is the right thing to do. “

His speech cut no ice with BackTo60. They are to continue pressing ahead with their application for an appeal in the New Year to get full restitution for the women with the support of the trade unions.

Unison, the largest public service union, are donating £700 to the cause on top of the £80,000 already raised.

Meanwhile I expect some more lobbying from Connect Public Affairs and Waspi to press for a reduced deal. Below is an example sent to me of an earlier lobbying campaign captured in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.