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

HS2 Fiasco: Should these two top Whitehall figures get the sack for covering it up?

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport Pic credit: gov.uk
Mark Thurston, the £605,000 a year head of HS2. Pic credit: HS2

The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee out today tells you everything you already knew about HS2 – the high speed rail link from Euston to Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds.

This rail line – at one stage facing being scrapped by Boris Johnson – earned a reprieve despite costs escalating almost out of control from costing £55bn when it was commissioned to an estimated minimum £88 billion today. Even commitments to petitioners against the scheme were wrongly calculated at £245m when the figure is now nearer £1.2 billion .And that may not be the end of the story as costs could still rise while the public will get a much delayed service with fewer trains.

The report also shows there is a huge problem with the redevelopment of Euston station – used by millions of mainline travellers and commuters – which no doubt will create another out of control of budget. We still don’t know the real cost for that.

But what I found really distasteful that Bernadette Kelly, the highly paid permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and Mark Thurston, the UK’s highest paid public official in charge of HS2 – he is on an eyewatering £605,350 salary and got a £46,000 bonus despite not keeping public money under control- conspired to cover up their failings and keep information from the public and Parliament.

The report is quite clear desperate officials were well aware that public money was going down the toilet but decided NOT to tell Parliament and be less than honest in the official annual accounts of HS2 to disguise the mess they faced.

Bernadette Kelly revealed to MPs in March that she had undertaken four separate assessments to see if the project was viable last year – but neglected to tell MPs anything about it when she appeared before them. She claimed it was ” commercial sensitivities ” that held her back.

This is serious stuff. As the report says: ” We are disappointed by the Permanent Secretary’s response to our concerns about her failure to explicitly inform the Committee of the programme’s delays and overspend when asked about the general health of the project.

“This was something that an accounting officer should share with the Committee. Failure of an Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. “

To put it bluntly she may have broken the Civil Service code which lays down the ethics and rules governing how officials should behave and she may have lied to Parliament.

In that case I think there should be an inquiry and if she is found to have behaved as badly as that she should be disciplined or even sacked.

Mark Thurston appears to made sure that his company accounts did not give too many hints of the failure to control money. Why he should have a bonus when his costs went sky high – is a mystery to me. He should pay it back and questions asked whether he is the right man for the job..

I agree with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and deputy chair of the committee: “This PAC report on HS2 is one of the most critical, in both the transparency of Government and the handling of a project, that I have seen in my nine years in total on the committee.

“The Permanent Secretary appeared before the committee in October 2018 and again in May 2019. In March 2019 HS2 Ltd formally told the Department it had breached the terms of the Development Agreement, and would be unable to deliver the programme to cost and schedule – yet the Permanent Secretary did not inform the committee on either appearance that the programme was in trouble.

“This is a serious breach of the department’s duty to Parliament and hence to the public, which as the report says, will undermine confidence. Furthermore, the PAC was in the dark about serious cost overruns and was therefore unable to do its duty to inform Parliament that value for money .on the project was at risk.”

The United Kingdom used to be regarded as a world leader in upholding high standards in public life. The actions of these two individuals in trying to cover their tracks is more in line with a banana republic.

On Byline Times: One trade minister resigns, another trade minister should apologise to Parliament

Conor Burns, trade policy minister , who resigned today Pic credit: BBC

A rather dramatic tale from the Commons Standards committee out today. Conor Burns, the international trade minister, resigned after the committee recommended he be suspended from Parliament for seven days for abusing Parliamentary rules and privilege to help his dad get paid money in a private financial dispute.

Greg Hands asked to apologise to Parliament Pic credit: greghands.com

A second trade minister, Greg Hands, has been told to apologise to MPs for breaking rules by spending over £4800 on stamps and House of Commons stationery to send out a political newsletter to constituents who had petitioned him on local issues.

Read the full tale and see the reports on Byline Times here.

On Byline Times: UK to impose trade sanctions on Trump tomorrow to meet EU and WTO rules

Pic credit: BBC

While nearly all the attention is being given to the Covid 19 crisis tomorrow the UK will have to impose a limited number of trade sanctions on the Trump administration under a European Commission directive.

But you will say we have left the EU and Trump is a great friend of Boris Johnson? Well not quite. Until December 31 we abide by EU rules but have no say and this is why we are still caught up in the trade row between Trump and the European Union.

Ironically the EU has used a World Trade Organisation rule on anti dumping to put up the tariffs on a very limited number of goods.And the UK can’t afford to break WTO rules – if it is forced into a No Deal Brexit.

Read the full story on Byline Times here.

The Commons committee report where this is revealed came out yesterday. It is No 11 in a long list of new regulations.

On Byline Times: Refurbishment of the iconic Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben mismanaged by Parliament at huge cost to taxpayers

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I have today put out a story on Byline Times some damning findings by the National Audit Office on the refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower and the Big Ben bell and clock face. You can read it in full here.

The report is important because the government is committed to spending billions of pounds – a £4 billion estimate will go nowhere near the real cost – -refurbishing the Palace of Westminster over a decade.

This project was a tiddler compared to that – originally thought to cost £29 million -now 80 million. And if Parliament’s managers can’t properly manage that – what great mess awaits us over the next decade.

The report also reveals one extraordinary fact which shows that the Victorians were as bad at controlling taxpayer’s money and managing big projects as we are today.

The present building built after fire destroyed most of the old Parliament in 1834 was completed 18 years behind schedule and at three times the original cost.

Effectively the governments of Robert Peel and Lord Palmerson were no better at controlling budgets than those of David Cameron and Boris Johnson today. Plus ca change etc.

Exclusive on Byline Times: How a highly controversial contract to collect data on thousands of English Covid-19 hospital patients was never put out to competitive tender

Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay

An expose by The Guardian earlier this month revealed that confidential data from patients being treated for Cofid-19 in England was being collected and processed by tech companies – two of which were highly controversial companies.

Now after persistently chasing up officials NHS England have admitted that the contracts which involved the US company Palantir – run by Trump supporting right wing billionaire Peter Thiel – and British start up Faculty – which has links to Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser – were never put out to tender.

Read how they did it on Byline Times here

Back to Work: Restarting investigations

Back to Work even if Westminster is closed – except for virtual contacts

This is just a note to my readers that after an absence of nearly three months I am now back in rather a different England that I left in January.

I have been extremely lucky as the trip I took with my disabled wife sailing round the whole of South America was about the safest place to be at the time – as the ship kept ahead of the spread of COFID 19 until the every end.

Then a very wise captain decided not admit any new passengers or crew when we docked at Fort Lauderdale and only allow passengers to disembark – not even go ashore and return – protecting the ship from the virus.

We then sailed straight for Southampton and were able to dock without facing the terrible fate some cruise liners had to endure where passengers had caught the disease. Cunard deserve a lot of praise for this. I will put up a blog with lots of pictures of what we saw in South America at a later date – as an antidote to today’s gloomy situation.

But now having had to painfully adapt to the new situation and look after and protect my wife from this invisible scourge I am back to investigating from home again.

I have a lot to catch up. I am planning fresh articles on developments on the BackTo60 campaign and the continuing plight of #50sWomen now hit by the fall out from the coronavirus. While I was away their victory at the Court of Appeal to challenge the findings of the judicial review on all grounds was an amazing achievement.

I am also back working for Byline Times which is doing a series of investigations in to the NHS and the coronavirus and I will keep an eye out for any other issues in Whitehall that are being buried by the current crisis.

I also have a number of more long term and complicated investigations – nearly all raised by people who contacted me directly and are taking many months to sort out. You will know who you are but I ask you for some patience as it will take time to get round to them.

In the meantime it will soon be back to business as usual.