Local elections: The pincer movement that threatens Boris Johnson

Those who follow my tweets that record local by-election results over the last year should not be surprised by this week’s council election results. For the past year they have been revealing shock upsets where either the Green or Liberal Democrat candidate unseats a sitting councillor – more often a Tory rather than a Labour one – with a jump in their vote share by anything from 30 to 50 per cent.

Boris Johnson – facing an all party pincer movement

Labour a year ago was still losing councillors to the Tories in by-elections in Red Wall and Midland seats. It is only in the last few months as the Partygate scandal developed that Labour started holding those seats and occasionally taking a seat back from the Tories.

What the local elections showed this week is that these startling by-election gains by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are not a flash in the pan but part of a new trend. It also confirmed that Labour is back in business, has largely halted its decline in local government seats, consolidated its firm grip in London,, recovered from an all time low in Scotland, and yes, made gains in the North of England in Cumbria and Lancashire and stopped the rot in the North East. And it has made spectacular gains in Wales and become a force again in the South of England.

Sunderland symbolic of the halting of the Tory surge

The symbolic Labour council for me in the North was Sunderland. This was a council the Tories were keen for Labour to lose – and previous gains by the Tories and Liberal Democrats made this feasible as Labour’s majority had been cut. The Tories put money into winning seats – Johnson came up to the North East – even if he confused Tyneside with Teesside. What happened? The Tories did not gain a single seat and Labour managed to hold on with reduced majorities. Instead the Lib Dems took a seat off the Tories and Labour – winning by that surge in vote share that has become familiar in council by-elections.

The two symbolic Lib Dem council victories for me are St Albans and Gosport. The Lib Dems just controlled the Hertfordshire city before the local elections and had also taken the Parliamentary seat from the Tories in 2019. But this week’s election saw a Liberal Democrat landslide. The city has 56 councillors – 50 of them are now Liberal Democrat after they gained 20 seats overnight wiping out Labour and reducing the Tories to just four councillors.

Gosport was another extraordinary result for the Lib Dems. I know the town from sitting on the Gosport War Memorial Hospital inquiry. It is a fiercely working class, Tory naval town, heavily pro Brexit leaning even towards UKIP at one time. Yet the Remain supporting Liberal Democrats have taken control and ousted the Tories. This with Somerset , Woking and Hull going Liberal Democrat show a big change.

For Labour in the South the fact they now have a big majority on Worthing Council in West Sussex is also an extraordinary result. Some five years ago Labour won its first seat for 50 years and now they control the authority. The other extraordinary victory is Westminster. Dame Shirley Porter, now 91,- the Tory leader fined for gerrymandering the council to prevent Labour ever winning in the 1980s – must be cursing the result in Israel now Labour have a working majority.

Rise of the Greens

The other factor in the mix is the rise of the Greens. Though they control no council fewer and fewer authorities do not have a Green councillor – after this election . Here their appeal is potentially dangerous to both the main parties. The emphasis on green issues is subconsciously boosting their brand among people fed up with the old two party system. They can simultaneously appeal to the radical elements who left Labour after Jeremy Corbyn was banished from the Parliamentary party – and to rural Tories concerned about the demise of the countryside. No wonder one right wing Labour supporter suggested undemocratically that people expelled by Labour should be banned from joining another party. Thus the Greens can win seats in Sheffield, North Tyneside, Newham and West Oxfordshire, Sussex and Rutland all in the same year.

There is one person who is going lose out altogether by these converging trends – Boris Johnson. He is facing a pincer movement. His chances of further gains in the Red Wall area have been stymied, he has gone backwards in Scotland and Wales and his heartland Blue Wall seats are now seriously threatened by the Liberal Democrats in places like Esher and Walton and in places like Worthing and Southampton by Labour.

In my view, these local election results have created the perfect storm to undermine Boris Johnson.

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Senior MPs challenge DWP on “shambles” after leaked internal documents and screenshots on Westminster Confidential reveal pension claims are being dumped

Dame Meg Hillier and Stephen Timms, chairs of the influential Public Accounts Committee and Work and Pensions Committee, have written to Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the DWP, seeking an explanation why thousands of pensioners are being discouraged from claiming money they may be owed by the ministry.

The letter -published on the Work and Pensions Committee website – follows a high critical report by the Public Accounts Committee on the handling of pension back payments- and an articles on this website revealing internal advice given to ministry staff by senior management at the DWP.

It refers to my blog on February 10 which you can read here. This included an internal memo to people handling telephone callers seeking claims and a management training exercise aimed at speeding up the number of cases settled by staff by ignoring complicated claims, nearly all from women.

The most controversial was the ” drop and go” approach which urged staff ” if a case is complex or take a long time to resolve, move on to the next one in order to maximise the number of customers we can help today.”

Peter Schofield

The letter asks Peter Schofield to explain. It says:

“A report in Westminster Confidential on 10 February included screen shots, apparently of DWP internal documents, indicating that guidance to staff on handling calls about underpayments is to ‘close the call’ and only take details if the customer insists, unless the case is from or about someone who falls into one of the following four groups:
• A married woman whose husband claimed his State Pension before 17/03/2008
• An individual aged 80 or over who does not get any State Pension or only Graduated Retirement Benefit
• Someone who has died and may have been underpaid
• Someone who is divorced and wants to know how it impacts their State Pension.
It also refers to a message on the helpline which starts by telling callers that, if they are calling as a result of media coverage, “please be aware you do not need to contact us.” It goes on to tell people to stay on the line if they fall into one of the above groups.
Written in bold the MPs ask:

• What is the status of the documents quoted in the Westminster Confidential report? Do they represent current policy? If not, what changed and when?
• How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the revised information on Gov.UK in helping those who may be affected to understand their position and to take appropriate action?
Do you have plans to review your communication strategy and take further action if, for example, only a small number of those affected contact you to report a change of circumstances or make a claim?

The MPs say : “People in the four specified groups appear to be those who need to take action to receive an increase in their entitlement and, when they do claim, will generally only get twelve months’ backdating. Unlike those covered by the LEAP exercise,[This where the government has been mandated to pay back money such as the 135,000 pensioners who have been underpaid] there is no legal obligation on the Department to seek them out or pay them arrears.

The Department told the PAC that it could not publish guidance for those who may have been underpaid – such as an online assessment tool – because it believed it could not accurately cover all possible underpayment scenarios.

We remain extremely concerned – MPs

The letter goes on : “The Government’s response to the PAC report refers to revised information on Gov.UK which emphasises further that some individuals must make a claim and how they can do this. It is also working to provide a more direct route for those enquiring about underpaid State Pension in respect of a deceased customer. While this is welcome, we remain extremely concerned that the limited information on Gov.UK, together with the guidance and telephone message may discourage some from taking action that could increase their entitlement.”

The letter also discloses that a third of the way through the exercise to pay back the 135,000 pensioners owed money only 10 per cent of the cash has been paid out. This suggests that it may take much longer to pay the money to older pensioners who may not have long to live.

The MPs ask the permanent secretary to explain “The average and the longest amounts of time that pensioners who have contacted you about a potential underpayment can expect to wait for a full response.”

It is excellent that MPs are pursuing this story. The full letter is here. The DWP have until May 12 to respond. The ministry better have a good explanation.

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Living with Shadows: How refugees fleeing the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism pass down their angst to future generations

Powerful book is a timely reminder of the trauma of the present day Ukrainian invasion could affect generations to come

Merilyn Moos, the author, and her dog Rama. Pic credit: Carey

By a curious freak of timing as millions flee the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a remarkable memoir of earlier horrors of the last century – the rise of the Nazis and Stalinists and their effect on the refugees who fled Germany and Russia – has just been published.

The author Merilyn Moos is the daughter of two refugees who fled the Nazis in Germany to live in the UK and this short book describes in a thematic way her childhood here and how extraordinarily she only found out the full story about her parents’ past after they died.

Her father, Siegi ,was a lapsed Jewish Communist theoretician and director of an agit-prop theatre group performing plays by Brecht and a workers opera in Berlin. He went underground on the night of the Reichstag fire and fled Berlin minutes before the Gestapo raided his flat and walked over 1000 kilometres from Berlin to the Saarland to escape, only catching a train to cross the French border at Saarbrucken.

Lotte , her mother, met Siegi in Berlin and also escaped to the UK. But in 1936 she decided to go alone to Russia to visit a lover and friend , Brian Gould-Verschoyle, just at the time Stalin ordered show trials of Trotskyists. Both were put under house arrest and Brian was sent to Spain to work as an engineer to help the Spanish Communist Party. They were supposed never to communicate again but Lotte ignored this sending him a postcard praising a political group to the left of the Communist Party. This was intercepted by Stalin’s agents, he was kidnapped and put on trial as a Trotskyist and sent to a gulag where he died. She blamed herself for his death, fled the USSR coming back thoroughly disillusioned to the UK only to arrested as a suspected spy.

A rich history denied to their daughter

You would think with such a rich history her parents would tell Merilyn about their past. But as the main point of this memoir reveals, the opposite was true. So traumatic was their past they pretended to her that it never happened. Her parents were overprotective of her and paranoid. She never knew that she was from Jewish heritage until she was a young adult. Her father denied he was a Communist and pretended his family was Swiss. His mother never discussed her relationship with Brian.

As Merilyn says in the book: ” No family photos adorned our walls or mantelpieces. It was as if the three of us had been dropped onto earth by a stork, unencumbered by the ties and rituals of family life.”

She had an unhappy childhood, going to bed early until she was a teen and hardly ever allowed out alone from the house except to go to school. Her parents also did not want to her to become involved with boys and effectively pressurised her to break up up her first serious relationship with a boy after she got to Oxford University. No wonder she hardly spoke or visited them for 20 years.

The fascinating part of this book is that despite all of this Merilyn rebelled and followed in her parents footsteps becoming an active trade unionist campaigner and supporter of left wing causes. She is obviously now proud of their hidden past. She also is an accomplished sculptor and I have included one of them in this blog. Her son Josh, is a campaigner on climate change.

Sculpture of a pregnant women by Merilyn Moos

She and her son have been moved by the discovery of her parents real past. One of the most poignant moments in her memoir is how she and Josh traced their history back to Berlin and smuggled their ashes into Germany finding the apartment blocks where they had lived together and scattering the ashes around flower beds and bushes in the courtyard. As she said ” I had brought my parents home.”

This book has real insight into the trials and tribulations of refugees driven out of their country by hostile regimes and the dilemmas they face. Published at the same time as Europe faces its biggest war since the time the Nazis invaded the rest of mainland Europe, one wonders how many Ukrainians feel about their lives as they are driven from their homeland. It is also an intensely personal and honest account of a child of a refugee’s life in the UK and all the better for it.

Living with Shadows by Merilyn Moos. Available from Amazon £8.25

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Revealed: A new generation of women face pension inequality

Pic credit: Siemens pension scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some low paid women may never get a work pension

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

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

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

A DWP spokesperson said :

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

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

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

Make pension savings a compulsory part of a divorce settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos inside the Department for Work and Pensions

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

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

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

Pauline Hinder

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

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

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

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

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

As her diary reveals : “

 “rang  08007310469 opt 2 then opt 4then opt 2 

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

Rang 08007317898 New claim opt 2 Then Hold for advisor

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

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

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

” He was polite but batting me off with hogwash”

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

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

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

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

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

He intervened by calling the DWP on her behalf.

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

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

An apology from the DWP showing the right pension

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

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

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

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

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A right wing aristocrat to fight ground breaking £180,000 tribunal ruling against him for “arrogant and misogynistic” treatment of two pregnant staff

Sir Benjamin Slade

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear an extraordinary case soon involving a wealthy aristocrat who says he is descended from Charles II and his treatment of two of his employees who were sacked from his upmarket wedding business at his stately homes after they became pregnant.

Since the case the wedding business has been closed down after Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service issued two prohibition notices on one of the venues, Maunsel House, because of “inadequate means of escape from first and second floors due to lack of escape signage, lack of emergency lighting and lack of fire separation.” He has been ordered to install fire escapes.

Surcharge of 25 per cent imposed on compensation package

Sir Benjamin Slade is now appealing a ruling from an Employment Appeal Tribunal which not only ordered him to pay compensation for unfair and constructive dismissal , injury to feelings of the two women and aggravated damages, but imposed a 25 per cent surcharge on the awards for breaching the employers’ code of practice by ACAS. The total compensation for both women came to just short of £180,000. The surcharge ruling is particularly significant as it lays down rules for similar surcharges in other cases.

Maunsel House Pic credit: BBC

The two women, Melissa Biggs and Roxanne Stewart worked on his wedding business where people could hire Maunsel House and Woodlands Castle near Bridgewater and Taunton in Somerset. Roxanne Stewart, was a deputy manager and Melissa Briggs, an admin assistant. Both became pregnant at about the same time.

What followed was that both of them found themselves dismissed without full statutory maternity and holiday pay and wages after first being transferred to a new company – without their knowledge- which only employed both of them and had no money to pay them. Their pregnancies were said to be ” highly inconvenient” for Sir Benjamin .

The tribunal used unusually strong language against Sir Benjamin including accusing him of refusing to hear Melissa Biggs grievances and subjecting Roxanne Stewart to a ” spurious and vindictive disciplinary process” on ” trumped up ” charges. Sir Benjamin was said to have made ” entirely fanciful” allegations against her. They were also critical of his agent, Andrew Hamilton.

” one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”- tribunal

The first employment tribunal hearing described the process involving Roxanne Stewart as “one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”. The timing of the suspension, in the advanced states of her pregnancy, was “designed… with her then vulnerability in mind, to have maximum effect on her” The suspension and dismissal were then pursued with the “motivation… of driving her out of employment”.

She gave birth prematurely and within the weeks following that birth ,her baby was in intensive care”.

When giving evidence to the ET, Sir Benjamin “made wide-ranging and lurid allegations about the claimants and their relatives, without any substantiation whatsoever, in respect of their character, financial position and other matters”. The ET found that these allegations were “entirely fanciful and prompted by a desire on his part… to ‘throw some dirt’ at the Claimants.

The appeal tribunal held in London and president over by a High court judge, Mr Justice Martin Griffiths, threw out a case from Sir Benjamin to say he should not pay the surcharge. He said he would appeal.

He told me: ” The sum I am being asked to pay is totally disproportionate given the staff were paid about £20,000 a year. I am not against people getting pregnant, indeed I have been helpful to other staff who became pregnant. I think the judge was left wing.”

The Sun ran a flattering article on him after he ” auditioned” for a ” breeder” to get him a son and heir

Sir Benjamin has a controversial back story. He is 75, a hereditary baronet, but has no heir. He recently advertised for a young wife as a” breeder” as he wanted two sons – an heir and spare – to succeed him.

He listed his requirements for the perfect ‘breeder’. She should be taller than 5ft 6in – ‘preferably 6ft 1ins or 6ft’ – aged between 30 and 40, and possess a gun licence. ‘Scorpios, drug users, lesbians, communists and Scots need not apply,’ he told the Daily Mail.

His quest for a wife led to a big sympathetic feature in The Sun by reporter Georgette Culley who ” auditioned” to be his wife and stayed overnight in Maunsel House. The feature is here.

He let out his other property Woodlands Castle only to find it then became the centre of a massive police investigation when a huge cannabis farm was found in the roof. Questioned by the police he denied any knowledge about it.

A Vietnamese man, Trung Nam Pham, 39, of no fixed address, was arrested after the drug bust. He appeared before Taunton Magistrates’ Court last June and was remanded in custody pending a crown court hearing.

Sir Benjamin with Daniel Hannan, then an MEP. at Woodlands Castle. From his old website

Sir Benjamin is on the right of the Conservative Party. During the Brexit campaign he hosted a lunch for Daniel Hannan, then a Tory MEP for 84 people in Woodlands Castle to promote Vote Leave.

Now he is waiting his appeal – has not paid the two women any of the compensation – though he says he has made up their wages and the statutory maternity pay. His wedding business – at £3000 a time -has collapsed – first hit by Covid 19 and then by the prohibition order from Devon and Somerset fire services.

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Therese Coffey’s mean “pay out and grab back” scheme for the poorest elderly cheated of their rightful pensions

Therese Coffey

A new scandal was revealed in the House of Lords this afternoon which could affect tens of thousands of the poorest pensioners already cheated for decades of the right money for their pension.

The underpayments running to tens of millions – exposed by Sir Steve Webb, the former Liberal Democrat pensions minister – is slowly being sorted out by officials at the DWP though as this blog exposed earlier with the most complicated cases being delayed under a secret ” drop and go ” scheme to get the numbers up.

Baroness Stedman- Scott

The minister Baroness Deborah Stedman-Scott revealed that so far £60.7 million had been paid out to 9491 people cheated of their full pension – suggesting that some of the payments must be pretty large.

Extraordinarily she could not give a gender breakdown – which led to a rebuke from Labour peer Lord Jeff Rooker who accused her of hiding the fact that vast majority must be all women.

But then came the killer blow. In answer to a question to another former pension minister, Baroness Ros Altmann, Baroness Stedman-Scott confirmed that the poorest pensioners who got the money -mostly in their 80s and 90s – would cease to get their fees paid by local councils if they got more than £23,250 in England

Hidden bonanza for care home owners

Instead they would have to pay privately until their pension savings money fell below £23,250. Given that many care homes charge differential rates for people residing there – local authority rates are often lower than private rates – this could even be a new bonanza for care home owners – as they could get more money for providing the same services.

Baroness Ros Altmann raised the issue

This “pay out and grab back” scheme was universally condemned by peers of all parties. Not one supported Baroness Stedman-Scott who was looking increasingly uneasy at having to admit this.

She hinted that in rare cases the DWP could make a special payment to a pensioner or that local authorities could perhaps waive individual fees.

“Special payments under the DWP discretionary scheme are not routinely made to those who have been underpaid state pension. However, under exceptional circumstances, such as where severe distress has been caused by the way an individual case has been handled, a case may be referred for consideration of a special payment.”

This got no purchase with the peers. The most critical comment came from Lord Forsythe of Drumlean, another former Tory minister, who accused the government of ” hiding behind the skirts of local government” rather than take national responsibility for the change.

Lord Rooker raised the issue of 50s women and the government’s ” holiday” from funding the national insurance fund

Lord Rooker linked this action to the failure to pay out the 50s women when the pension age was raised to 66.

“The noble Baroness talks about “people” and “persons”, but we are talking about women. When was the last time tens of thousands of men were short-changed with their pension? I do not recall that happening. When the Government took their long-term holiday from paying into the National Insurance Fund, they deprived hundreds of thousands of women of the pension that they were entitled to. Why cannot that be redressed?”

Government ignores answering who is to blame at the DWP

Conservative peer Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, a former journalist, wanted to know who in the DWP was responsible for this failure to pay so many people the right pension.

“My Lords, when more than £60 million that should have been paid has not been paid, surely somebody should be held responsible in the end for that error. In the private sector, the sum of £60 million would be taken very seriously. Can the Minister tell us, therefore, who was ultimately responsible for this failure to pay such a large sum of money?”

The minister couldn’t – she just blamed it on a computer failure.

She did promise under pressure to approach both the Treasury and Therese Coffey to see if the government could introduce regulations for councils to ignore the pension back payment. But admitted she might get short shrift from the Treasury.

All this points to another blow for the 50s born women when and if they get compensation in the future. By that time many may well need social care -only to find out that they will have to give back their payments to cover their care home costs.

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Boris Johnson: Labour solely to blame for the maladministration over 50swomen pensions

Boris Johnson at PMQ;s Pic credit: Jessica Taylor House of Commons

Boris Johnson is planning to weaponise the sad plight of 3.8 million 50s born women by blaming Tony Blair’s Labour government solely for the maladministration in not informing them about the six year delay in getting their pensions.

In a letter to one of his constituents, Anne Taylor, the PM provides his first detailed comment for some time on the plight of the pensioners. It comes as Parliamentary activity is being stepped up. The all party group of MPs on 50s women state pension inequality for women is pressing the Parliamentary Ombudsman to propose compensation of £10,000 for each woman. A Parliamentary motion by Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, calls for full restitution for all 50s women, worth up to £50,000 for some, has been signed by 52 MPs.

Mr Johnson justifies blaming Labour by seizing on the finding of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, who found that there was maladministration over a 28 month period from 2004 and 2007 solely under a Labour government.

He points out that the Ombudsman’s investigation has to go through two further stages and still has to consider whether there has been an injustice. Only then will it move on to discussing compensation and he insists that this will be ” limited to that specific window of time.”

” I await the next stages of this process, but it is important to stress, that the ombudsman investigation is not an entire review of the State Pension increase from 1993 -2011.”

Actually he is wrong here, as the Ombudsman did consider the wider period but as I have written in an earlier blog, one of the flaws of his findings, was that it exonerated Whitehall action in the earlier period, including when Peter Lilley, then social security secretary, ignored warnings by civil servants of the need to inform the women.

He is also wrong about the court judgement when the Court of Appeal rejected a judicial review and the Supreme Court refused to hear BackTo60s case. He cites WASPI in this case and seems to think they were calling for a review of the pension age to 60. This insults both groups.

Boris Johnson has changed his mind on the issue. In a blog in 2019 I wrote about his two faced approach – first supporting women during his Tory leadership campaign and then dropping them after the court decision.

What is disturbing about this latest letter is that it offers little hope of any support for their case from the Prime Minister. It also suggests that he is building up ammunition to accuse Labour of being responsible for all the mistakes – hoping they will stay mum for fear that he will accuse Keir Starmer of being responsible for the women’s plight.

Bizarrely the Ombudsman’s findings leave him aiding and abetting the PM’s stance. It also means those hoping for a quick decision on compensation from the Ombudsman are going to be very disappointed as the PM will hope it is dragged out for years.

As for his constituent Anne, this is her view: ‘Having less than 2 years to prepare for a 6 year hike was shocking enough.  Nothing could have prepared me for the way I have felt since, I have literally had my hair turn grey, lost my sense of self and felt like a second class citizen. I had no idea how aged I would become in this time. I have 6 months of my sentence to go, I will never forgive this and successive governments for not giving back our earned dues’.

Boris Johnson’s letter

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Exclusive: Don’t call us, we’ll call you – the shambles inside the DWP as it struggles to cope with the pension underpayment crisis

Internal documents and screenshots reveal staff instructed to halt calls from worried pensioners and avoid complex cases to boost numbers

The Department for Work and Pensions is telling the public that it has set up well trained specialist teams to pay out up to £1 billion owed to at least 135,000 pensioners after huge underpayments were uncovered.

The real picture is one of overworked staff desperately trying to calculate with outdated computers how much money people will get while creating a knock on effect for new people applying for their first pension.

Now documents and screen shots seen by this blog reveal that staff have been instructed to ” close calls” from pensioners if they don’t fit the profile and even drop investigating complex claims for simpler ones to artificially boost the number being helped.

A new telephone message has been put on the pension helpline telling people NOT to call them and wait to be contacted instead. ” please be patient as this may take us some time.” Sometime in the worst case scenario could be December 2023. And for people who may not have long to live that is bad news. Note also it blames media coverage for the volume of calls.

Document showing the telephone message
Document showing when staff are instructed to end the call. But if someone insists they want to give them the information they have to take it down. It also shows that none of the staff can tell people hen they will get an answer and they are told not to call back. At least the ministry admits it has a large volume of calls.

Yesterday the Department launched from Newcastle-upon-Tyne its SP [state pension] Challenge – a slick management exercise to try and instill team work among thousands of staff who are trying to cope.

Screenshot showing management in difficulty with old computers in tracing pension cases

However some of the screenshots reveal how management haven’t necessary got all the information because of outdated computers.

Probably the worst example of the problems they face is the ” drop and go ” policy – where staff to boost numbers are told to abandon the case and find another simpler one. This was used during the challenge yesterday.

How they were prioritising “easy” cases to build up numbers

The official response which I got before I saw these documents is:

“Resolving the historical State Pension underpayments that have been made by successive governments is a priority for the Department and we are committed to doing so as quickly as possible.

“We have set up a dedicated team and devoted significant resources to processing outstanding cases, and have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again. Those affected will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.”

The DWP will have to respond soon to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee which has already called out the whole process as a shambles. It will make interesting reading to see how top officials and ministers spin their replies. Whatever they say the situation can’t be good if the ministry continues to emphasise it doesn’t want people to ring them.

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The 200,000 men in their 50s and 60s who can’t get jobs

Boris Johnson in full flight in the Commons. Picture credit: Jessica Taylor House of Commons

This blog has consistently highlighted the cases of 50s born women who in waiting for their delayed pension have either had to fall back on benefit or struggle on in work with serious health issues.

Now in the last two years – almost since the Covid pandemic started – the same problem is hitting men born in the 1950s and 1960s as they wait until they can claim pensions at the age of 66.

The official figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics comes just as Boris Johnson has been found out again for lying five times about the record number of jobs created during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s ” incorrect job figures”

The BBC’s Reality Check Team revealed that Ed Humpherson, from the Office for Statistics Regulation, had sent one of the prime minister’s advisers at Downing Street a letter saying it was “incorrect to state that there were more people in work at the end of this period than the start”.

Mr Johnson has been mixing up the number of people on payrolls, which has gone up with the number of people in work, which has not. They are not the same thing – the payroll number excludes self-employed people, In fact the number of people in work had fallen by 600,000 to 32.5 million – a point taken up by Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port, and Shadow Health and social care spokesman. He criticised the PM for providing in accurate information to Parliament.

An analysis by Rest Less , a digital community which acts as an advocate for people aged over 50, reveals startling increases in people over 50 on the dole queues

Latest figures released by ONS show that half the men who have been on the dole for more than 12 months are over 50. Comparable figures for the 18-24 age group is just 27 per cent.

While the proportion of both men and women who have been on the dole for more than a year has risen from 34 per cent to 41 per cent. This compares with a rise from 14 per cent to 25 per cent for the 18-24 year old group.

DWP plans crackdown on unemployed benefit claimants

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “Our analysis shines a light on the many individuals who have so much to contribute to the workplace, but who are being left behind by the recovery. Unemployment amongst people aged over 50 is up 23% compared with pre-Covid levels. The fact that half of all unemployed men aged over 50 have been unemployed for more than 12 months is shocking and a timely wake-up call to government and industry that we need to do more to ensure that our post-pandemic jobs plan supports people of all ages.”

And some of the cases are heart wrenching and are very similar to the plight of 50swomen trying to get jobs while being forced to live on Universal Credit.

Plight of Chris Long

One example is Chris Long from Bedfordshire.

He will turn 60 in March. According to a report from Rest Less:”  He has been out of work for the past three years.  Chris has worked in a variety of roles over the years, most recently as a forklift driver but previously in a security role and in mental health and addiction services.  He has a broad skill set as a result.

” Around the same time as Covid hit three years ago, Chris became unwell with a health condition which was later diagnosed as lung disease for which there is no cure, only symptom management.  He had to give up his job as a result.  Some days, Chris has trouble walking up and down the stairs but there are other days where he feels fit enough to work.  It has proven difficult for him to find work whilst he looks after his health and, in his own words, he says ‘I just don’t know where I fit anymore’.

Chris is currently on benefits but needs to get back to work for financial reasons.  He lives with his partner, who works, and they have an 8 year old daughter to support. “

Given the Department for Work and Pensions is now cracking down on anybody on Universal Credit who has been out of work for more than four weeks and won’t accept any job by reducing benefits the picture for him is bleak.

What employer is going to take on someone on who can’t get up the stairs unless they happen to have a policy of employing disabled people.

What appears to be happening is a double whammy for people over 50.

On the one hand the government is boasting about how successful their jobs programme has been – with the Prime Minister lying about the statistics.

On the other it looks like now both men and women who have health issues over the age of 50 ( and who doesn’t) and find it difficult to stay in work are being confined to a twilight existence until they get their pension which is being remorselessly made later and later in their lives by an uncaring government.

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