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The real picture is one of overworked staff desperately trying to calculate with outdated computers how much money people will get while creating a knock on effect for new people applying for their first pension.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.
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.
However some of the screenshots reveal how management haven’t necessary got all the information because of outdated computers.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.
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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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.
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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Those who follow my blog may remember I have been highlighting a horrendously complicated story of the plight of people who contracted out of SERPS but were told they would receive an index linked guaranteed minimum pension. This arrangement was scrapped when the new state pension was introduced in 2016 for anyone in the private sector – but remains for public sector workers.
This decision was never debated in Parliament or included in the Pensions White Paper and has meant the government got away with not paying out anything from a £1000 to tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of their pension, depending on how long they were contracted out by their employer from the old SERPS scheme. The numbers could be as high as 11 million and women would be the worst affected.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, was asked to investigate and concluded that there had been maladministration and two people shared £1250 compensation. Unlike the row over the 50s and 60s born women who lost out by not being informed by the government over the rise in their pension age, no record exists, as far as I can find out, of the ministry repealing this provision in the 2014 Pensions Act.
In September 2019 the Ombudsman gave the ministry three months to sort out this issue. He asked the ministry to “review and report back on to us on the learning from this investigation, including action being taken to ensure that affected individuals receive appropriate communication from the DWP about their state pensions. “
The DWP ignored the Ombudsman’s request and only last August -in the middle of the summer recess – put up a fact sheet to inform people. There is no reference to the Ombudsman’s report, and the fact that people could be entitled to compensation. There is no mechanism for people to apply for the compensation and the notice was not even accompanied by a press release. The figures used to say how much people underplayed what people lost. And the Ombudsman wimped out of pressing the government to do anything.
Now this month the results of these devious ploys have been revealed in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee after Stephen Timms, its chairman, took up their cause.
Not ONE person in the UK has received any compensation and only four people have written to the Department about it. None of the four were entitled to extra money. Given the deliberately obscure way the fact sheet was constructed and the lack of a mechanism to apply for compensation – it is hardly surprising. The Department is also insisting that these people are better off- because the triple now double lock – has given them more money. But that is a universal payment and pales into insignificance when you think of thousands of pounds many of the people have lost.
I expect Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State and Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, were probably holding a joint celebratory karaoke session in their offices – as they had avoided paying out an extra penny to the people they had deprived of compensation.
The level of deception was heinous given that Chris Thompson, a reader who has enormous knowledge about GMP, had put in a freedom of information request to find out how many people had contacted the DWP to request compensation. He was told it was ” too expensive ” to give him the information. What mendacity by officials, how expensive is it to tell them that nobody got it and just four applied.
This sorry tale bodes ill for the 50swomen who are fighting for compensation for a similar pension maladministration – it is obvious that officials and ministers in this case have perfected a procedure to be as obscure as possible and not create any mechanism to claim compensation. Also they can’t rely on the Ombudsman to stick by them – in this case he wimped out and didn’t even hold the DWP to the fire to do what he asked them.
This is yet another example of a ministry that has no interest in justice and can rely on bamboozling the public and fake excuses for not replying to freedom of information requests.
Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the DWP, has promised a review of the fact sheet now. I am not holding my breath.
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A Labour MP has tabled a fresh Parliamentary motion backing the case for women born in the 1950s to have repaid all the money they lost by the six year delay in receiving their pension. For some people this could be as high as £50,000.
Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, tabled the new motion this morning reigniting the issue which the government want dead and buried after the campaign group Back to 60 lost in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
The full test of the motion is:
“That this House welcomes the positive interventions from so many hon. Members from across the House on behalf of women born in the 1950s who have lost their pensions; and pays tribute to constituents and campaigners in their ongoing fight for justice; recalls that women born in the 1950s were subject to discriminatory employment and pension laws; recognises that this included being excluded from some pensions schemes; recognises that this had the negative effect for them of losing the opportunity to have the same level of pension as their partner or spouse; further recognises that this has had the consequence of women in this position never being able to have equal pensions to men; further notes that this has negatively and profoundly impacted on them including increased poverty, deteriorating health and homelessness; notes that at least 3.8 million women have been impacted by the loss of their pensions from the age of 60 in three separate age hikes; and calls on the Government to enact a temporary special measure as permitted by international law to provide full restitution to women born in the 1950s who have lost their pensions from the age of 60 because of the impact of the rise in retirement age. “
50s women unjustly treated
While Parliamentary motions are rarely debated publication of this motion acts as a noticeboard to other MPs and ministers that there is a still a very strong feeling in Westminster that the women have been unjustly treated.
It is significant that the motion tells the government that there is a mechanism in Parliament that they can use to implement the change – known as the special temporary measure- which would lead to the women being paid quickly.
It comes at the time when through ill health and Covid 19 some 204,000 women have already died before they get their pensions.
It is also significant as it shows that there are MPs in Parliament who think that the state pension inequality for women all party parliamentary group does not go far enough in redressing the issue. This group, chaired by Labour MP Andrew Gwynne and Tory MP Peter Aldous, has submitted proposals to Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, asking for him to offer a minimum of £10,000 compensation to the women. This proposal backed by WASPI has two drawbacks. First the Ombudsman has to agree and given his report only found partial maladministration between 1995 and 2010 he may decide not to agree such a high sum. And he has no power to force the government to accept his recommendations beyond shaming them.
This new motion is backed by 15 MPs including John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, and Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader. It is perhaps rather ironic that if Labour had won the last general election compensation might have already agreed as John McDonnell promised a £58 billion pay out to correct the injustice.
Other MPs backing the move include Jim Shannon, the DUP social care and health spokesman, and Labour MPs, Kim Johnson, Beth Winter, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Zarah Sultana, Ian Mearns, Kate Osborne. Nadia Whittome, Grahame Morris, and Jon Trickett.
Jon Trickett has linked his support to his local Waspi group, showing that they favour full restitution.
The motion also has the support of Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem spokesperson for Justice and women and equalities, and independent MP Claudia Webb.
UPDATE: Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP and joint chair of the APPG state pension inequality for women, told BackTo 60, he had no objection to MPs from his group signing Ian Byrne’s motion.
He said” I see no conflict between it and the APPG’s submission to the PHSO.”
Nine more MPs have signed the motion including five SNP MPs, Chris Stephens, Glasgow South West; Allan Dorans, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock and Deidre Brock, Edinburgh North and Leith, Amy Callaghan, East Dumbartonshire and Chris Law, Dundee West. The other three MPs are Labour and SDLP – Dan Carden, Liverpool Walton; Ian Lavery, Wansbeck and Aspana Begum, Poplar and Limehouse, Barry Sheerman, Huddersfield; Sir George Howarth, Knowsley, and Hannah Claire, Belfast South.
In another development the Pensions Reform Alliance and Waspi have said they do not want 50swomen to get full restitution. Members of the Alliance put out misleading information that this Parliamentary motion would somehow influence Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, from recommending compensation for the 3.8 million women. This is complete nonsense as it would not impinge on anything the Parliamentary Ombudsman would recommend and MPs are entitled to express their opinions.
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A truly damning report by MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee today castigates the Department for Work and Pensions for running an “unfit for purpose” system to pay pensions to more than 12 million people.
The scandal of 134,000 pensioners being underpaid by around £1 billion dates back over 37 years and a number have already died before they could receive the money. The MPs say: “The errors happened because of the Department’s use of outdated systems and heavily manual processing, coupled with complacency in monitoring errors and a quality assurance framework that is not fit for purpose.”
The report says: “Managing Public Money requires Departments who make mistakes to put them right and restore people as far as possible to the situation they would have been in had the error not occurred. However, the Department is seeking only to pay people their legal entitlement in arrears, in some cases many years after the event, and has treated people inconsistently in paying interest on their arrears.”
Meanwhile another report from the All Party Parliamentary Group On State Pension Equality for Women submitted to Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, on behalf of 3.8 million women who have faced delays of up to six years before receiving their pension falls short of asking for full restitution for the women.
Instead it is asking the Parliamentary Ombudsman to recommend that the women should receive a minimum of £10,000 each because of heartrending stories of poverty and hardship.
“Women have had their emotional, physical, and mental circumstances totally obliterated by a lack of reasonable notice. These impacts must be addressed, if we are to reach any kind of conclusion regarding this injustice”, it says.
The proposal is far better than the unspecified figure by the same committee prior to the 2019 election but falls substantially short for people who have lost £40,000 to £50,000 by the DWP refusing to entertain any payment at all.
The Public Accounts Committee report on the pensions underpayments is unflinching in its criticism of the DWP. It points out that 40,000 of those owed money are now dead adding:”94,000 pensioners are estimated to be alive, which represents approximately 0.9% of those currently claiming the pre-2016 basic State Pension.
These official errors affect pensioners who first claimed State Pension before April 2016 and who do not have a full National Insurance record or who should have inherited additional entitlement from their deceased partner.
90 per cent of the people hit by underpayments are women
” Around 90% of the pensioners underpaid are women because of the types of State Pension claim affected. The Department does not expect to trace over 15,000 of the affected pensioners or their next of kin where the pensioner is deceased. On average, the Department estimates that the approximately 118,000 pensioners it can trace could receive payments averaging around £8,900 by the time the payments are made. So far, the Department has found underpayments of between £0.01 and £128,448.37.”
The report goes on:” The Department has not given people who are worried they have been underpaid enough information to find out what they should do, with the risk that many may still miss out on money they should receive.
” The Department’s communications strategy is to only contact those who it finds have been underpaid under the State Pension regulations. Other groups of pensioners can receive arrears if they make a claim for additional entitlements to the Department, but the Department has provided very little information on which pensioners should do so.”
The report also points out that by repaying the money as a lump sum people means it could affect other benefits – such as entitlement to pension credit and social care payments. The DWP ignores doing anything about this.
Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “In reality DWP can never make up what people have actually lost, over decades, and in many cases it’s not even trying.
Both the latest reports are damning for the Department and show up the disdain the ministry has for elderly people. The Public Accounts Committee report is the most damning as it suggests that the ministry is breaking Treasury guidelines on managing public money correctly by not taking comprehensive action to restore the rights of people – nearly all women – to get cash they are entitled to receive.
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Last night I did a live stream video for CEDAWinLAW explaining why I am supporting their campaign for a new Women’s Rights Bill to implement properly the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women which Margaret Thatcher ratified in 1986.
Despite this happening 36 years ago it has still not been properly implemented by the government causing widespread hardship, discrimination and lack of opportunity for millions of women. Recently the UN committee supervising the implementation of the convention has taken the current government to task for its failings though you would not know this from coverage in the mass media.
This to my mind illustrates how marginalised women – particularly elderly and middle aged women – are treated by society.
The good news is that it looks like the Scottish government under Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, is planning to introduce a new bill of rights for women. She may run into a dispute with the Westminster government which does not want devolved administrations implementing UN conventions until the UK government introduced legislation. At the moment there is no sign of the UK government doing this which is why we need a strong and powerful campaign to get it done.
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This year my blog hit another milestone since it was launched in 2009 after I left the Guardian . The number of hits on the site topped three million – 3,113, 413 to be exact.
Last year this blog received 286,840 hits and over 203,000 visitors. This is smaller than the previous year but still a substantial number for a single handed blog. It is also the year when I started to solicit donations for my investigative work and I have now received close to £2000 in four months.
Part of the reason for the drop is that Back to 60 campaign which I still support has now morphed into a broader campaign – CEDAWinLAW- which people have needed time to get their heads round. Back to 60 was a simple single issue campaign concentrating on getting full restitution for 3.8 million 50s born women who have had to wait up to six years for their pension. Now it has changed into a much bigger campaign covering ALL discrimination against women based on a UN convention which we ratified in 1986 but have never fully implemented- the UN Convention on Eliminating All forms of Discrimination Against Women.
This is now making its mark – two of my highest blogs hits last year- relate to the new CEDAW campaign getting 6500 and over 8,800 each.
The top blog came from a tip off from a reader, Rosie Brocklehurst, who received a threatening letter from the Department for Work and Pensions as part of an anti-fraud exercise to gather information from pensioners. The top line was : ““If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis). This had 25,652 hits.
The second highest at 20,643 came from a 50s woman whose Freedom of Information request revealed the Department for Work and Pensions had never conducted an impact assessment on the effects of raising the pension age for women from 60 to 66.
One older blog which exposed the huge £271 billion savings made by successive governments putting money into the national insurance fund made the top ten blogs – adding another 9828 hits – taking it to an astonishing 331,000 hits since it was published.
One controversial blog leaking the maladministration findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s draft report on 50s women over the raising of the pension age had 9,688 hits. Senior members of the WASPI campaign who knew this wanted me to take it down for fear the Ombudsman would change his mind. This turned out to be groundless and a lot of people were given advance warning.
More next year on Whistleblowers
Next year as well as following through CEDAW, keeping an eye on pension developments, I will also be taking up more and more whistleblower cases -involving doctors in the NHS, Sellafield and other areas. One case I took up last year was the plight of Dr Usha Prasad, a cardiologist who has been dismissed by Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust after exposing an avoidable death there. The combined blogs in her case have topped over 8000 hits. Expect more of this.
Global reach of the blog
An analysis by WordPress shows that my blog has a very big UK audience – over 264,000 hits out of the 286,840 last year – with the remaining 22.700 coming from overseas. Biggest overseas hits were from the United States ( 6821), Spain (3071) and the Republic of Ireland ( 2143). But on a much smaller scale it also has a global reach covering almost every country in the world, including hits from the Marshall Islands, Greenland, Russia, China, India, Mauritius and nearly every country in South America, Asia and Africa plus Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the whole of Europe.
Next year will be challenging – I already have enough new stories to investigate -plus a some long term investigations which take a while to come to fruition. Please continue to donate to my blog to keep my investigations going.
The government is once again going to save hundreds of millions of pounds in future pensions bills by keeping young mothers and caring grandparents ignorant of the consequences of a law change that came into force when George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For once the Department of Works and Pensions is not behind these savings. Instead it is HM Treasury via HM Revenue and Customs. And the way the government is getting away with this would not be obvious to anyone unless they had an encyclopedic knowledge of social security regulations.
When a young mother is giving birth to a new born probably the last thing on her mind is whether she will get a decent pension. Yet laws introduced in 2013 which reformed and effectively ended child benefit as a universal benefit have had an extraordinary hidden knock on effect on individual pensions that will be paid out in 40 to 50 years time. It also hit home much earlier for caring grandparents who took on child care responsibilities – the very group of 50s women who have already lost tens of thousands of pounds by the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66.
The law change introduced by George Osborne after his 2012 budget was to stop paying child benefit to people whose individual income exceeded £50,000-£59,000. Those who were already receiving child benefit and didn’t know about the change or didn’t tell the Inland Revenue were hit with stiff fines.
As a result mothers who were aware of this widely advertised change didn’t put in a claim. What they didn’t realise is without a claim for a benefit that would be denied – they would also lose their national insurance credits while they brought up a young family. This can make a huge difference to the amount of state pension they can claim decades later.
There was a double whammy in all this which hits home much sooner. Grandparents and other close relatives who were happy to help with childcare for a struggling young family are entitled to additional credits on their final pension called Specified Adult Childcare Credits. But if their daughters haven’t registered for child benefit they get nothing.
Both groups get nothing
If either group suddenly finds this out all they are entitled to is just three months national insurance credits- even if it is years in arrears.
Now if you think this all sounds rather fanciful all this information is taken from a bundle of documents prepared for an appeal to a tribunal to take place next year. The case is being bought by grandparent Judy Lynch from Harrow in north London, a woman born in the 1950s who has already lost £40,000 in back pension by the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66 and stands to lose another £800 a year from this law change. Her NI credits were five years short of getting a full pension. Her case was highlighted in The Times by journalist David Byers recently.
She has written to the tribunal to tell them her daughter did not claim child benefit in 2016 precisely because she knew she would not get it. But the form contains no information that she would lose national insurance credits towards her pension nor has she ever received a letter telling her the consequences of her decision. Nor is it made clear that if grandparents helped her with the childcare that they would not be able to claim additional national insurance credits.
George Osborne has managed to get away with this for at least six years before MPs in a Westminster Hall debate in the Commons caught up with it. When they did the then financial secretary of the Treasury came in for strong criticism from all parties including a Tory backbencher, Craig Mackinley. He attacked the system.
He said: “There is no withdrawal of child benefit for a couple both earning £50,000—the high income child benefit tax charge does not apply, even though the family income is a generous £100,000. In another family, in which only one parent is working and earning, say, £60,000, and the other is not working, there would be a full claw-back of the child benefit given.”
The severest critic was Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central : “Organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group have long argued that the UK Government’s approach to balancing the books is gendered and does not stand up to the most rudimental scrutiny from an equality perspective. This policy is a key example of that. Budgets and spending reviews come and go, but we are yet to see any real strategic direction in tackling gender inequality.”
“The notion that a woman has to know her partner’s intimate financial details is quite unusual. My husband and I have separate bank accounts. I have no idea what he earns, but I was expected to phone up and give intimate details to someone over the phone. That will be all the more difficult for a woman in a situation of financial coercive control, and it will give the male parent a huge amount of control.”
Anneliese Dodds, then Labour’s shadow Treasury spokesperson said:” New research on the high-income child benefit charge indicates that much larger numbers of people are being drawn into the system than were initially. The Institute for Fiscal Studies indicated that since the £50,000 threshold has not shifted upwards, about 36% more people— 370,000 more families— will lose child benefit in 2019-20 than in 2013-14.” The government of course denied that it was targeting women again.
Jesse Norman said: “The hon. Member for Glasgow Central said that the charge is a gendered policy. I do not think that is true at all, and many other aspects of Government policy do not reflect anything like that position, as she will be aware. For example, there is extensive work in supporting women as entrepreneurs and women in business.”
More recently, Liz Truss, who is also women’s and equalities minster, has backed this up claiming that women affected have plenty of time to make up lost national insurance credits to get a full pension.
There is one other twist to this story. The government has part privatised the handing out of child benefit forms to a private company, Bounty Joy Ltd. This firm gives out vouchers to women in maternity wards and child benefit claim forms. The firm has one director Alan Chan, a Canadian resident in the United States. He has a correspondence address in Stevenage, Hertfordshire and employs 19 people to cover England. The company has yet to produce a single account. I think this may have to be the subject of another investigation.
In the meantime lots of people are having to put up with yet another sleight of hand by Conservative ministers so they can hide savings. Again women are the main losers. And George Osborne has form on this. After all it was he who boasted in 2013 at a global finance conference talking about the raising of the pension age :“I’ve found it one of the less controversial things we’ve done and probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done.”
Gareth Thomas Labour MP for Harrow West and her local MP, who has already written to HMRC and the DWP about this and now intends to raise the issue again in Parliament. He described the revelations about the arrangements as ” scandalous” for both young mothers and grandmothers also condemning the privatisation of benefit advice to young mothers when they are ” at their most vulnerable.”
He attacked the government’s decision not to disclose to people that could lose national insurance credits by not applying for child benefit in the forms available at hospitals and is to press ministers to change the policy on this and the system which means mothers and grandmothers can’t get back most of the credits if they later find out.
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The UN committee monitoring progress by the UK to implement the UN Convention to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has severely criticised the foot dragging by the British government under Boris Johnson to fully implement it.
In a strongly worded report the Geneva based organisation “recommends that the State party incorporate all the provisions of the Convention into its legislation without further delay to ensure that the rights of women are guaranteed systematically and on an equal footing throughout all territories under its jurisdiction, including Northern Ireland.
“ It also recommends that the State party, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention, take proactive measures to ensure that the Convention is given effect in all of its overseas territories and Crown dependencies”.
The damning criticism comes after 35 years of delay by successive UK governments to properly implement a convention which the country signed up to years ago.
The committee’s findings sharply differentiate between the foot dragging actions of the UK government under Boris Johnson and the progress promised by the Welsh and Scottish governments. It is also pleased that Jersey has decided to implement the convention.
It says; “The Committee takes note that the Welsh Government commissioned research on how to foster equality and human rights in Wales, including through the incorporation of the Convention, and the new Programme for Government for 2021 to 2026 confirms the Government’s commitment to incorporate the Convention into Welsh law.
“The Committee also welcomes that the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the Convention through a new Human rights Bill following the recommendation by the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership. Further, the Committee welcomes that the Convention has been extended to the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Jersey in 2021.”
The decision will place pressure on Johnson’s government which has been antagonistic to Scotland and Wales implementing UN human rights conventions – witnessed by Johnson successfully going to the Supreme Court to block Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish leader, from legislating to cover all parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.
At the heart of the matter is that successive governments have not gone far enough in equality and human rights legislation to implement the convention.
It says: “the Committee deeply regrets that the State party has not taken necessary measures within its jurisdiction, including in Northern Ireland, to incorporate all the provisions of the Convention into its legislation despite the fact that the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 do not give the full effect of the Convention. The Committee also remains concerned that the Convention has not been extended to all of its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, including the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.”
It calls in particular for an “over arching strategy ” to implement women’s rights.
It says the UK must “Develop, without further delay, a unified and overarching national strategy for the incorporation of all the provisions of the Convention into its national legislation throughout its jurisdiction (including Northern Ireland) as well as its Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies (including the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Guernsey), and take all necessary measures for the implementation thereof.” It also critical of the UK government’s failure to make a proper post Brexit impact study on women’s rights”
Action called to tackle women’s rights post Brexit
It says the UK must “undertake a thorough impact assessment of its withdrawal from the European Union on the rights of women, including women in Northern Ireland, and adopt effective measures to mitigate the negative effects.”
The report goes on to urge the government to “consider establishing a national oversight mechanism to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Convention, with the effective participation of its national human rights institutions and women’sorganizations”.
It says the recent establishment of an equality hub in the Cabinet Office is not good enough.
It expresses its concern”that the Government Equalities Office nor the Equality Hub specifically target the rights of women protected under the Convention, nor do they address the State party’s implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Also, the Committee regrets that the State party has yet taken any actions to establish a national oversight mechanism in reviewing and implementing the Convention.”
This is a pretty damning conclusion by the UN about the state of women’s rights in this country. To campaigners like Jocelynne Scutt, president of CEDAWinlaw , it pinpoints exactly what they have been saying is missing in UK law – no overarching rights for women which could transform the situation on equal pay , pensions, job rights, protection from violence and could also have changed decisions taken in our courts. This will be a real test on whether Boris Johnson believes in real equality for women or just sticks to warm words.
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Step will strengthen rights for women and men facing bullies and workplace sexual harassment
Unless any MP objects next month the UK government will start drawing up a submission to the International Labour Organisation to ratify a new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.
The announcement hardly noticed by anyone was made by Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, in a written answer to Parliament this month. MPs were told if there were no objections within 21 days a ratification submission to the ILO will be drawn up and it will come into force a year later. This will make the UK the tenth nation in the world to ratify this convention and it is the culmination of two years of work following an initiative started under Theresa May when she was PM.
Rare case of political unity
In a rare case of unity in the present polarised world that characterises the UK, the action has all party backing. It has the support of the Westminster Tory government, the Welsh Labour government, the Scottish National and Green Government and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein Northern Ireland government. It is supported by both the CBI and the TUC and has the strong support of many international NGOs, women’s groups, Care International and the human rights organisations like Amnesty International.
The convention took time to draw up and it is – for an exclusively work orientated convention – remarkably inclusive..
Stephen Russell, policy officer at the TUC, says the convention itself is very broad based and also through ILO procedures means the UK will have to produce reports every two years on how it is being implemented.
The convention covers “persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”
It is also covers not just the workplace but also work related trips, accommodation provided by employers, harassment on social media, office parties and other work related social activities and commuting from home to work.
According to the TUC and the government the UK had a big role in drawing up the scope of the convention. One of the leading figures was Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union , which represents teachers. She is on the governing body of the ILO and was on the committee that drew up the scope of the convention.
Therese Coffey said that the government already has the legal framework to meet the requirements of the convention in both criminal and civil law but proposed to go further following recent consultations on sexual harassment in the workplace.
She said she would introduce ” a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers and clients.”
The issue of sexual harassment and violence against women has been highlighted lately in the police and Parliament where one former Tory MP. Charles Elphicke, was jailed for assaulting a member of his staff, The House of Lords has also introduced compulsory training for peers after some were accused of harassing women, including Parliamentary staff.
Only Fiji and Uruguay have ratified this, Namibia is next
So far internationally only two countries, Fiji and Uruguay, have ratified it. Another seven countries are in the process of ratifying it, including Greece, Italy, Namibia, Somalia, Ecuador, Argentina and Mauritius. Namibia will ratify it from December 9.
While the UK has ratified four UN conventions covering the rights of the child, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), racial discrimination, and the rights of the disabled, but has not introduced all encompassing laws to implement the conventions.
When Scotland tried to implement in full the ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Boris Johnson instructed lawyers to go to the Supreme Court to block the move and succeeded. Similarly the government is not keen on implementing CEDAW in full with a Women’s Rights Bill.
Jocelynne Stutt, president and patron of CEDAW in Law, said: ” This is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in sexual harassment cases. There is harassment of tenants by landlords, there is rampant harassment of students in education, and sexual harassment in the home. None of this is covered by the new convention and the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention which comprehensively covers sexual harassment and violence towards women.”