At the TUC I was commissioned to write an article for Union News, the website that reports on all trade union action, about Unison’s decision to back the 1950s born women for the full restitution of their pension from the age of 60.
Unison were keen enough to support the BackTo60 campaign to come to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Boris Johnson, supporting their case which has been backed by a Parliamentary motion, started by Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff, North and now signed by 190 MPs from all parties.
Next week Unison will be backing the campaign at a fringe meeting supporting the cause of the 3.8 million women at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday in the Metropole Hotel, Brighton.
You can read my article on the Union News website here.
Whitehall is condemned yesterday by a powerful all party committee of MPs for being over secretive over the award of nearly £100m of management consultants contracts to handle Brexit.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee accuses Whitehall of breaching government guidelines in making public contract details, awarding nearly all the work to just six companies and covering up some of the contracts.
As you can see from the picture above the Government has sneakily already decided that Britain has left the EU as far as 2.35 million disabled blue badge holders are concerned.
My new card for my wife issued this week has been stripped of its EU symbols even before we have left the EU. It appears to reassure people by using nine foreign languages to describe it as a disabled parking card.
But investigating the real position of disabled driving post a ” No Deal ” Brexit this is totally misleading and could easily end up with holiday makers being fined in some European countries for illegal parking.
At present as a member of the EU all UK blue badge holders can get concessionary parking in virtually all European countries. If they hire a car they can take the blue badge with them as it is not tied to a particular vehicle. And the Independent Living advice site thinks nothing has changed. It says:
“It is not likely that Brexit would lead to the UK changing the format of the Blue Badge, so there is no obvious reason why it would not continue to be recognised across Europe, in the same way as those issued in Switzerland and Norway. “
However a more detailed investigation on a disabled motorists site paints a different picture.
It shows that once Britain leaves with a No Deal using this card will vary from country to country. In Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, Norway,Austria, Poland,Luxembourg, Romania and Cyprus there will be no problem.
But in France, Croatia, Finland,Leichenstein and Latvia the card won’t be recognised because we are from a third country.
In Germany you will have to notify the local council or police and get a card to park as a disabled driver.
And it may not be recognised in Holland, Belgium or the Czech Republic because it does not have a disabled wheelchair sign on the card.
In Malta and Portugal you must apply in advance for a special card if you want to use it. At present as a member of the EU you have no problems and can use the Blue Badge Card.
In Italy you have to check with the local council – it will vary from city to city where you can use your card. At present you can use it everywhere. The same applies to Lithuania and Hungary.
In the UK it is being left to the local council’s discretion whether they want to recognise blue badges from other EU or European Economic Area countries.
So far as I can see the government does not seem to have thought about it at all – most advice dates from 2008 and 2013 on Whitehall websites.
There are no deep coal mines in the UK. There are no coal
miners. There are no brass bands attached to a living colliery and there no new
union banners for new pits. And soon, under new environmental rules, the sale
of domestic coal, except for smokeless fuel, may be banned.
So one would think that an event called the Durham Miners
Gala would be consigned to our nostalgic past with a few old men having a pint
down the local working men’s club.
But the facts contradict this. A new film released on Friday The Big Meeting by director and producer Daniel Draper two years after the last pit closed in the UK in 2016, shows the very opposite with a thriving modern festival in the City of Durham attracting over 200,000 people. It is a tribute to the almost eternal traditions of community, solidarity and fraternity that lives on long after the last mine closed.
It is warm almost affectionate appreciation of one of Labour’s
major festivals seen partly through the eyes of a diverse group of individual
participants, including a 19 year old Oxford undergraduate who runs a local
left wing bookshop in her vacations; a Waspi group of middle aged women
campaigning for their pensions and a woman who plays in a brass band.
The film itself interweaves the past and present with split
screen and colour and black and white clips contrasts the old celebrations with
the new. It has clips of Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson
addressing the meeting from the balcony of the Durham County Hotel when the
National Union of Mineworkers was a major force in the land to today’s
political participants including a video from presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders
in the States to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader.
It shows how the country has changed. One black and white
sequence shows young lads and lassies (well before the contraceptive pill)
cavorting in the fields and woods round Durham – as the festival was the place
where young miners could meet people of the opposite sex. This is contrasted
with today’s festival highlighting gay rights.
There is very raw emotional coverage of the music of brass bands – which, if anything, have expanded – with bands from places like Bristol which never had a pit to the US band players– participating with bands that have survived their pit closures. And there is in an interview with a woman who still makes these huge union colliery banners and is both reviving old lost ones and making new ones.
There is also clips of current pop artists who attend the
event including Billy Bragg.
The climax of the festival is a service inside Durham
Cathedral with the brass bands that have marched through the streets converging
on the city’s huge place of worship.
This is the film that both tells the history of a 135 year
old event and captures the spirit of it today.
As the director said: “I don’t think words can do justice to
such an occasion – I feel like the Gala is a living and breathing organism,
something not static, but immovable – a celebration of working-class life, not
just today, but almost as if it takes place in the past and future
simultaneously. I suppose this film is an elaborate explanation of something
wonderful and beyond words.”
The BIG MEETING. On release from September 6 and shown first in South Shields, Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and Halifax. It is produced by the independent Shut Out The Light company
Contributers: Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, DBC Pierre, John Irvin, Paul Mason, Margaret Aspinall, Selina Todd, Robert Colls, Ross Forbes, George Robson, Heather Wood, Heather Ward, Stephen Guy, Charlotte Austin, Laura Daly, Lynn Gibson, Mike Jackson & Brett Haran (LGSM), Ben Sellers, Liam Young, Emma Shankland, Robert McManners, Jake Campbell-Morris.
Boris Johnson has shot himself in the foot over plans to
flood the House of Lords with up to 100 No Deal Brexit supporting peers and simultaneously
planning to prorogue Parliament.
The scheme announced over the Bank Holiday weekend has already run into serious trouble in the Lords.
In an article in Byline Times I explain how the PM has now annoyed the Lord Speaker Lord Fowler as well as John Bercow, the Commons Speaker- and how his plan will run into the ground through House of Lords procedures and a competing peerage list from Theresa May. See here
This weekend I had the honour of chairing a session at the Byline Festival for BackTo60 Campaigning Group in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.
The occasion was important for giving wider publicity to a new generation how successive government’s cruel treatment of a large group of 3.8 million women who are waiting up to six years for their pension. And also to show to the young that by having guts and determination ( which the 5,000 people at Byline Fest have in droves) us oldies can also press our case home by arguing and succeeding in getting a judicial review to try and remedy this injustice.
It was also to warn them that this group will be the first of many to find themselves in a similar predicament. This is particularly so if former Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s charity, the Centre for Social Justice, succeeds in getting the UK to have a retirement age of 75 by 2035 – giving it by then the dubious accolade of being a world leader in forcing people to work until they drop.
Amber Rudd, the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, says the government won’t do it, I don’t believe her. For the role of think tanks is to influence government and prepare the people for the changes they want, and this is the think tank that proposed Universal Credit, which any self respecting person will think has been an unmitigated disaster for the poor and the disabled.
The story of the pension scandal that hit the 50s born women is not a boring pensions tale. It covers Whitehall skulduggery, effectively saving £271 billion of public money by removing the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund; a failure to properly communicate the change in pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 to the people affected until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
And the revelation of the hardship, and misery it had inflicted on people driving them to despair even suicide as they haven’t the money to live on.
And finally the fake news that we are all living longer – which has hardly been the case since 2011 when it flatlined. It has only been the wealthy who are living longer, for the poor in part of the UK like Glasgow and Blackpool it has started to fall.
It also a tale of hope – of challenging the government in the courts and finding a legal mechanism – a temporary special measure – which can be used to redress this balance – thanks to the work of one of the speakers at the session, Jackie Jones, MEP for Wales and a former professor of feminist studies at the West of England University.
What was gratifying was the interest among the young and older festival goers who came to listen. They engaged with the issue, asked pertinent questions, even if some were shocked at the antiquated attitudes in the 1970s when Dr Davina Lloyd, revealed that she was banned from going to university in the 1970s because she was a married woman and was expected to stay at home. She was saved by Roy Jenkins, who went on to become home secretary, who passed a law allowing married women to train as teachers.
Members of the panel did a YouTube film with the Byline Festival after the session. It is below.
A group of leading BackTo60 campaigners and top people from Unison, the public service union, today delivered a personal letter to Boris Johnson calling on him to act to pay out the money owed to 3.8 million women whose pensions have been delayed by up to six years.
The delegation went direct to Downing Street preceded by Larry the Cat to press Boris Johnson to fulfill a pledge that he would look again at the problem for this particular group of women, many of whom have driven to poverty by the decision enacted by successive governments.
They are backed by a petition signed by 177 MPs of all parties calling for a Special temporary measure to grant the money owed without reversing the existing pensions legislation by returning the pension age to 60 for women.
The full delegation were Prof Jackie Jones, Barrister, MEP, Wales; Gloria Mills CBE, National Secretary, UNISON, Equalities, Sian Stockham, Senior Vice-President, UNISON, Alan Fox. National Pensions Officer, UNISON, Joanne Welch, Campaign Director,BackTo60.com and Callum Jones, Undergraduate.
Prof Jones said “It’s beyond time for women to have equal rights and equal financial entitlements for years of service. Equal pension is part of this. No way are women going to settle for anything less.”
Gloria Mills said”1950s women deserve their full state pension now and the government should act by using the Temporary Special Measure contained to right this wrong. UNISON the UK’s largest trade union with 1 million women members will continue to fight for pension justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s many of whom are UNISON members.”.
She added: ” The recent idea that people may have to work to 75 is a disgrace to all working people. All these women have been discriminated against all their life by not being able to claim a pension while they are working part time or bringing up a family. Their pensions pots are miniscule compared to many men.”
Sian Stockham said : ” Some women who just paid the married woman’s pension have been left with the disgraceful sum of just 10p a month which is a disgrace.
Callum Jones, an undergraduate student who joined the delegation said : “It is clear to see that the government is trying to take advantage of vulnerable members of society and if we don’t look after the most vulnerable members of our society what kind of society would we have.”
Earlier petitions, one of which reached 728,000, were delivered to former Prime Minister, Theresa May on 3 separate occasions: It was ignored and this led BackTo60 to succeed in getting o a Judicial Review, held on 5th and 6th June was hthe Royal Courts of Justice,t and the Reserved Judgment is due soon.
In a rather bizarre move this May WASPI Ltd, which also represents some of the women, tried to urge MPs not to sign the motion calling for the restitution of the money to the 3.8 million. They believe the women should only get a bridging loan which will have to be paid back by having reduced pensions for life.
But this action is rather late as 177 MPs have already signed and the motion was delivered to Number Ten demanding full restitution today.