Cheated Again! MPs blast Department for Work and Pensions for not acting fast enough to reimburse £1.46 billion to pensioners

The DWP is attacked today by MPs on the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee for not having a credible plan to reimburse hundred of thousands of pensioners who have been shortchanged billions of pounds in pension payments.

The scheme is the only programme where the DWP admits it has made gigantic mistakes by underpaying pensioners and is committed to return the money owed to them. It is obvious at the moment that ministers and civil servants have no intention of reimbursing people who have been denied a guaranteed minimum pension when they were contracted out by their employer.

Nor do they appear to be remotely interested in compensating the 1950s women who lost six years of their pensions despite it being clear that the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, has found maladministration in not telling the women properly about it, let alone even considering whether women were unfairly discriminated by the decision. The fact that not a single minister has talked to anybody about 50swomen since 2016 speaks volumes.

What is clear from a report by the MPs ( which also tackles benefit fraud) is that they are distinctly unimpressed by the DWP’s handling of this despite assurances from Peter Schofield, the permanent secretary, at the department during a committee hearing earlier this year.

Peter Schofield Pic credit: gov.uk

The Department’s efforts to correct the systemic underpayment of State Pension are too slow to meaningfully put things right. The Department now estimates that 237,000 pensioners have been underpaid a total of £1.46 billion in their State Pension.
“Despite these underpayments going back as far as 1985, the Department’s overall exercise to correct this issue is delayed from the end of 2023 to the end of 2024. The Department cannot be certain that its plan to deliver the exercise on schedule is achievable, as it is dependent on assumptions around recruitment, retraining, and automation.

“We are not convinced that the Department has done enough to ensure its communications to potentially affected pensioners are sufficiently clear. We are concerned that this may leave many pensioners lacking reassurance that they will receive meaningful and timely redress.

We remain unconvinced about the DWP – MPs.

“The Department does not yet know the full extent of the underpayment relating to Home Responsibilities Protection, and it is dependent on HMRC to evaluate the impact of these underpayments on pensioners. The Department cannot be certain that it has identified all the underpayments implied by the results of its annual measurement exercise. Overall, we remain unconvinced that the Department’s control systems are adequate to detect further underpayments before they build up into major issues in future.”
Sounds familiar. Anyone trying to ring the department already knows what lousy communicators the ministry is- that is, if you can get through to them..

And it looks like there is worse to come. The report said:

“The NAO [National Audit Office] reported that the Department cannot rule out that there may be further groups of pensioners, as yet unidentified, that have been affected by a historic underpayment.
It concluded that this was in large part because the Department had not set out plans to revise its control processes for State Pension cases to ensure that underpayments are detected and recorded at the point of payment.”

Yet again through delays and failure to get a grip pensioners are being cheated of their rightful dues and many may die before they receive them. Is there no part of the DWP that can function correctly?

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Massive win for nuclear whistleblower Alison McDermott against Sellafield for re-arguing the tribunal decision by employment judge Lancaster

The Sellafield site

First hurdle over clearing the way for a two day hearing in January to decide on whether the 13 grounds mean the ruling is overturned

An employment appeal judge has ruled that the decision by Judge Philip Lancaster dismissing whistleblower Alison McDermott’s case against Sellafield and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority can be challenged now on no fewer than 13 grounds.

This extraordinary ruling on Friday in London by Employment Judge Tucker took less than 10 minutes to grant after she read the submission by Andrew Allen, KC, Alison’s counsel , means practically everything Judge Lancaster decided is open to challenge at an Employment Appeal Tribunal hearing in January. She decided she did not need to hear oral submission from Andrew Allen.

Alison McDermott; Pic credit BBC

In an earlier particularly harsh decision Judge Lancaster had decided that she wasn’t even a whistleblower, for producing, at Sellafield’s request, a damning report revealing serious issues in the HR function including allegations of bullying and harassment. Prior to this Alison had raised repeated concerns about racism, homophobic and foul language and a workforce too frightened to complain to senior management there.

Despite admitting that some of the concerns Alison raised were: ‘very offensive and concerning ” the judge ruled: “The Claimant has not, on the facts, established any alleged disclosure which is properly capable of amounting to a protected qualifying disclosure or the doing of a protected act, or that there is any causal link between what she actually said or wrote.”

It is worth providing a brief recap of what Sellafield and the NDA have done to Alison.  She spoke out repeatedly about serious abuses of employees, including abject failures within the HR department, when the HR Director, Heather Roberts dismissed her overnight, allegedly for financial reasons. But when Alison started litigation, Sellafield changed its tune and Ms Roberts said she had had concerns about her performance and had only mentioned financial reasons to be kind. 

Sellafield then dragged out litigation for three years before making a last-minute offer of £160,000. When they realised the carrot hadn’t worked, they decided to go on the attack and subjected her to a brutalising cross-examination in which her character and competence were repeatedly vilified until she finally broke down on the witness stand.   But even then, they weren’t finished with her.  As soon as Judge Lancaster ruled in their favour, they lost no time pursuing her for costs   And all of this will have a hugely chilling effect on their 11,000 nuclear workforce.  

Judge Lancaster claims he concentrates on anti-discrimination cases

Judge Lancaster, who says he specialises in anti-discrimination cases, went on to support Sellafield’s allegation of “underperformance” describing the report as ” questionable and insubstantial ” and without ” meaningful analysis”. Judge Lancaster completely ignored that management consultants PwC ruled that the HR function was not fit for purpose some three months later.

By then Heather Roberts, then the HR director at Sellafield, had already sacked her on the spot and immediately buried the damning report and admitted to lying about the reasons.  Despite knowing that Alison had become so ill and had no income, the judge made a costs order against her and allowed Sellafield and the NDA to put in a claim for £40,000 costs against her.

Now Judge Lancaster’s own judgement will be in the firing line in January when an appeal tribunal examines 13 arguable grounds of appeal. In a skeleton argument, citing a previous judgement, Andrew Allen, KC, finds a plethora of errors in law which led to Judge Lancaster’s bizarre judgement that she was not a whistleblower. One paragraph that encompasses this – citing no fewer that eight grounds that the case could be challenged gives a flavour of this.

“It is an error of law for a tribunal to fail to give adequate reasons for its decisions so as to enable the losing party to understand why she has lost. The EAT has already decided that it is arguable that this tribunal have erred in law: in applying s27 EqA – in failing to recognise protected acts; in applying s109(2) EqA in identifying the correct relationship in dealing with agency; in failing to engage with the Claimant’s submissions in particular on adverse inferences, protected acts and agency; in failing to take a step back and look at the totality of the evidence; in failing to be Meek compliant; in failing to ensure compliance with the overriding objective to ensure that the parties are on an equal footing; in failing to ensure that the hearing was heard in public in failing to recognise that the Claimant has advanced argument on the facts and the law in relation to the agency point; and in failing to comply with the overriding objective in dealing with the case fairly and justly.”

Andrew Allen KC

Andrew Allen, KC also argued that the tribunal had failed to follow the principles of the law in pursuing costs again Alison which says should only be made in exceptional circumstances especially in the case of whistleblowing cases.

This case and Sellafield’s response is attracting wider attention. It is not just the UK press. On Friday, representatives of a prominent Norwegian environmental campaign group, Neptune Networks flew in from Oslo to attend the hearing.  

Norwegian national press to follow the case

Neptune Networks has been raising serious concerns about Sellafield for the last two decades and confirmed that they will be attending the main hearing on 17 and 18 January 2020 and they will be accompanied by members of the national Norwegian press.

Finally a little note about Judge Lancaster. He is also the chair of directors of a Christian charity, Spacious Spaces, based in Leeds, which offers treatment programmes for alcoholics and drug takers. Here he is known simply as ” Phil”. This is the note about him on their site.

“Phil Lancaster practised as a barrister, specialising in criminal cases. He is now an Employment Judge dealing primarily with the anti-discrimination laws. He is a member of St George’s Church, where he has been a church warden and served on the parochial church council. He is married with fairly recently grown-up children and a large collection of Bob Dylan cds.”

I find it a little perplexing given his Christian background and commitment to treating drug addicts and alcoholics that he is not concerned about what Alison McDermott exposed about the pressures on staff inside Sellafield who are working in the most hazardous nuclear site in Europe.  I also find it deeply disturbing that he made snide and pejorative comments about Alison both during the ET hearing and in the merits and cost judgment. 

An example of this is the nasty insinuations he made about Alison when he accused her in the costs judgment of bringing a claim ‘to advance her career across the nuclear sector’ even though she had turned down a £160,000 to bring her claim to court.   He also seems oblivious of the huge strain and damage whistleblowers face to their careers when they blow the whistle.   If his judgement is found to be so badly wrong by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, there must be some serious questions about justice in the employment tribunal system.

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Delivered to Downing Street: Jocelynne Scutt’s tribunal report on the horrors facing #50swomen who faced delayed pensions

Jocelynne Scutt, president of the Convention for Ending all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Tribunal, yesterday delivered her report on the plight of 50s born women to Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister, at Downing Street.

The report, to be officially published at the end of this month, is the latest move to press for full restitution for the women who had to wait 6 years to get their pension. It is timely reminder to the government which is about implement big tax rises and spending cuts that this issue will not go away for the 3.6 million people who lost out.

Jocelynne Scutt, President of the CEDAW Tribunal; Janet Chapman, Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary Assistant, and Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, who tabled a Parliamentary motion call for full restitution, pictured outside Parliament

Jocelynne Scutt gave a speech outlining the main issues and Ian Byrne wholeheartedly backing the campaign. See it on a video here.

Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary motion now has 75 signatures from MPs. The latest MPs to sign include more Labour MPs such as Qureshi Yasmin, Bolton, South East; Karl Turner, Kingston-upon-Hull, East: Dan Jarvis, Barnsley Central; and Khalid Mahmood, Birmingham, Perry Barr and Clive Betts, Sheffield South East.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse and MP for Bath is the first member of the party to sign.

The issue is very popular in Northern Ireland with all MPs in the Democratic Unionist Party signing plus a member from Social Democrat Labour Party and the Alliance. Eight MPs from Scottish National Party have signed and two from Alba Party. There are also a number of ex Labour MPs now Independents have signed, the latest being Dr Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and South Acton.

It is noticeable that not a single Conservative MP has signed the new motion though many signed the motion in the last Parliament calling for full restitution.

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How Sellafield and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority misuse taxpayer’s money to hound a whistleblower

Alison Mc Dermott, whistleblower

One of the biggest tactics to frighten whistleblowers by big companies and health trusts is to threaten whistleblowers exposing malpractice, corruption and discrimination and say they have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in costs unless they settle or drop their claims for detriment at employment tribunals.

The tactic regularly used by firms and health trusts in employment tribunal cases is based on a lie. The maximum an employment tribunal can order costs is £20,000 per respondent. Only if it goes to the High Court can a firm or health trust demand such eye-watering sums.

However Sellafield, the NDA and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ministry have decided that it is worth pursuing whistleblower Alison McDermott, a consultant formerly employed by Sellafield for the maximum £40,000 shared between the NDA and Sellafield. They know she has no income and they have even tried to close down her crowdfunding site to raise money to defend herself against their costs claim.

Her whistleblower site is here and you can donate to bring the sum up to £10,000 within the next 14 days otherwise she loses the lot.

Damning report revealed relentless bullying at Sellafield

Alison was called in by Sellafield’s human resources department to investigate their working practices and produced a damning report revealing employees were subjected to appalling racist, sexist and homophobic abuse and relentless bullying. Only 11 per cent felt they could raise issues with the company without reprisals and four percent thought they got honest answers. Faced with such a damning account Sellafield sacked her rather than change its ways.

This led to an employment tribunal case which not only found in favour of Sellafield and the NDA but saw her publicly denigrated by Sellafield’s barrister, Deshpal Panesar KC, who accused her of ‘acting out of revenge’  of being ‘intent on ruining careers’ of being ‘self-absorbed’ and ‘a woman clearly in pursuit of a windfall.’ 

The NDA tried to buy her off with a £160,000 pay out in return for her silence on what she had found at Sellafield. She refused to accept – arguing among other points that such a culture permeating a nuclear facility was dangerous given serious issues of health and safety. She tried to raise this with BEIS but they refused to meet with her having signed off the £160,000 settlement.

Now a judge has ruled that she is entitled to appeal on six different grounds – and she has secured Andrew Allen, KC, a lawyer who represented Dr Chris Day, in his recent whistleblowing tribunal case against Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, to represent her.

But she has also to face a costs hearing. So how is this being pursued by the NDA and Sellafield.

Sellafield

I put in two freedom of information requests to Sellafield and the NDA on how much they had spent and the revelations were very interesting. Sellafield has already spent £5640.16 on external advice plus using its own staff to pursue Alison. The NDA spent £7524.58 on external legal advice and an unknown sum on staff time to pursue her. So before we even get to court over £13,000 has been spent using taxpayers money. Furthermore the NDA according to an internal memo spent money on lawyers trying to close down her whistleblowing appeal with no success. The total cost spent by both organisations fighting Alison has exceeded £500,000 of taxpayers money.

The replies also revealed that the boards of both organisations including the Chief executive officer of the NDA , David Peattie ,were ” apprised” of the decision meaning that it reached board level. BEIS was also informed and approved the costs case but declined to comment about it because of current legal proceedings. What on earth are the boards of these organisations spending their time on this when they have much serious work to do on issues like nuclear safety and disposing of old nuclear power stations.

Now when this gets to a tribunal there will be a two day hearing and according to internal NDA documents it was paying over £5500 a day for top notch barristers. It is reasonable to assume so was Sellafield. This means the hearing will cost another £22,000 as they will be represented separately.

So altogether we are taking about £35,000 as a minimum ( excluding staff time) to recover a maximum of £40,000. That is – if they win. And even if they win most judges rarely award the full sum if it is a litigant in person. It is more likely to be £5000. If they lose this is taxpayers’ money being thrown down the drain.

If this was a commercial company I very much doubt it would past muster as a ” business case”. It is only because the boards of these organisations have unlimited access to taxpayers money that they can pursue this.

And to my mind this is only being pursued to hound a whistleblower who has produced some very damning information about life in Sellafield. This has called Sellafield’s reputation into question and they don’t like it, hence this vindictive approach.

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Will the final report from the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry be a real game changer for children or just gather dust?

Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry

It was unfortunate that the long awaited final report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse coincided with the resignation of Liz Truss, the shortest serving PM in British history. The Westminster psychodrama has drained political discussion of any policy initiatives from the government while the main protagonists in the Tory Party fight each other to the death for the top job.

If Theresa May , who commissioned the inquiry, was still PM I suspect that action would have been taken promptly. As it is there will be no response from the government for six months and I doubt whether we will see any new laws for years. Particularly if Boris Johnson becomes PM again as he made it vividly clear that investigating child sex abuse was a waste of money. You only have to look at how long it is taking to reform the antiquated Mental Health Act to see a parallel.

Having reported on it and even helped to initiate the inquiry as a journalist, I have followed it with a lot of interest , both when I was on Exaro News and on this blog. I have mixed feelings about the £186m inquiry .

On the plus side the scale of the inquiry – some 15 investigations in every institutional area of the UK from the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England to local authority care and the reach of the global internet – should put to bed any misconceptions that child sex abuse is not a major epidemic in this country. And it proves that in many instances that those in charge of those institutions are more than willing to turn a blind eye and pretend it doesn’t exist either for reputational reasons or because they actively connived in the sexual exploitation of children.

Also it did provide a much needed voice for thousands of survivors who might never get real justice but at least now felt people had listened to their appalling life changing experiences.

Carl Beech, a false flag victim of child sexual abuse, who made up allegations damaged real survivirs

On the other hand I felt -because it was closely tied to the legal profession- they felt they had to be ultra cautious and only take on proven cases by perpetrators – whether Bishop Ball or dead people like Sir Cyril Smith – because the fury from families of the living, I am thinking of Greville Janner, wanted no discussion of anything to suggest that he might have been involved.

The inquiry also took place during the conviction of paedophile Carl Beech whose detailed revelations turned out to be made up and the Metropolitan Police spent millions investigating them. I suspect that made them more cautious and the media ultra cautious in reporting fresh allegations.

The downside of this is that has protected more paedophiles from media scrutiny and made authorities less likely to believe victims. One only has to see the total silence in the media of the allegations revealed in Simon Danczuk and Dan Smith’s book, Scandal at Dolphin Square, of a well researched story of David Ingle, a victim of abuse by a Lincolnshire farmer there.

Now the proof will be in the legacy of this inquiry. It has proposed the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse – making it a criminal offence not to do so. But there is an argument whether this goes far enough.

Richard Scorer, the head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, which represented more than 120 victims at the inquiry, said there should also be a criminal penalty for failure to report abuse that is reasonably suspected, otherwise organisations will continue to turn a blind eye.

He is reported in a good analysis by Rajeev Syal in the Guardian as saying:” Children rarely disclose abuse, perpetrators almost never do,” he said. “Mandatory reporting can only work if the requirement to report suspicions has consequences, such as a criminal sanction. The inquiry’s proposal falls short of what survivors seek.”

More must be done to support whistleblowers of sexual abuse

More can also be done to support whistleblowers in this situation.

Jayne Senior, Director of Safeguarding at WhistleblowersUK, said;
“After a week of political turmoil, it would be easy to overlook the damning reports exposing the failure by every possible authority to protect Children and the most vulnerable in our society and the Whistleblowers who have selflessly spoken up only to become targets and subsequently victims themselves.”

The report also proposes a national compensation scheme for survivors of sexual abuse and “the creation of a Child Protection Authority (CPA) in England and in Wales. The CPAs will have powers to inspect any institution associated with children. They will not replace current inspectorates in relation to the statutory authorities, but may require inspection of those authorities by existing inspectorates. The CPAs over time will become centres of expertise, and may extend their child protection functions to other forms of harm experienced by children.”

There are also 17 other recommendations. They vary from tougher controls of the internet to extending the debarring and disclosure scheme for staff to those working overseas with children to the end of pain compliance techniques for children held in custody.

The problem is that again unfortunately these measures come at a new time of austerity and fresh spending cuts so I can’t see a government committed to lifting the burdens of regulations wanting to implement them soon.

The problem is immense and the report estimates that child sexual abuse costs the country £10 billion and of the 13 million children in the UK “Babies, toddlers and children are potentially at risk, with current
estimates indicating that 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 16.”

But it is going to take a lot of action and public pressure to make the government act and also create a gamechanger situation for the millions of children suffering sexual abuse which is a global problem.

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The economic horror yet to come: Shocking report from Barnardo’s on family poverty

Jeremy Hunt – cutting benefits in the cost of living crisis

Yesterday Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor, announced the biggest Budget U-turn in history, throwing out nearly all of Liz Truss’s and Kwame Kwarteng’s tax cuts and announcing a big curb on help for those with rising energy bills.

But this only the half of it. In less than two weeks time big cuts will be announced for public expenditure in a wealthy country and there will be more grim news for the poor – whether pensioners or low income families whatever pledges are given for compassionate Conservativism. But what is the position now before the axe falls on public spending amid a cost of living crisis?

This is the answer given in a well researched report by Barnardo’s the children’s charity, drawing on work done by the polling organisations, Yougov, and the non Tufton Street think tanks, the Institute for Public Policy Research and IPPR North. See Barnardo’s press release here.

Barnado’s logo

More than half the parents contacted have ALREADY cut back on food for the family and one in five parents have struggled to supply sufficient food. Over a quarter of parents say their children’s mental health has been affected and one in five taken out new credit cards – boosting the profits of the banks just as curbs on bankers’ bonuses have been lifted. Sadly a quarter have had to sell some of their possessions to make ends meet and a small number have had to return pets to animal rescue centres because they can’t afford to keep them.

Among the professions, three out of five people are supporting a child, young person or family experiencing poverty and three in five practitioners have either given food or pointed families to food banks. The Mirror today gives a dramatic account from other charities backing up this food crisis.

Barnardo’s calls for more benefit help not less

The charity is calling for an extension of free school; meals to all families; help for all vulnerable children to be able to participate fully in school life; strengthen targeted social security payments to help young people and families manage better; improve mental health services to help children and introduce more family hubs to support people and children.

The problem is what journalists are hearing is likely to be the opposite – real cuts to social security – a mental health service starved of resources and no compassion to extend free school meals.

Banardo’s doesn’t cover issues facing pensioners but given comments on my site the most likely changes for them are the end of the triple lock, the raising of the pension age again- and using the excuse that families are struggling in work to say pensioners can’t have a good deal.

What can’t be exaggerated is that more and more people are being driven into poverty whatever the government says ( they claim the opposite). So unless you are banker or a very highly paid executive getting a big national insurance reduction or an MP or minister life this winter is going to be very grim.

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Pension Justice stalemate: WASPI and Backto60 step up rival campaigns just as the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt plans new spending cuts

Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor of the Exchequer

And a Parliamentary Petition is laid to change another pension injustice affecting millions

The chaotic and collapsing government of Liz Truss is facing rival demands to settle the long running dispute affecting 3.6 million 1950s born women demanding compensation for maladministration and inequality over the six year delay in paying their pension.

Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, has tabled a motion supporting Backto60’s demand for full restitution of the lost money – up to £50,000 in some cases- payable through a special temporary Parliamentary measure – to avoid changing the 1995 Pensions Act which set the higher retirement age for women.

Ian Byrne MP

Some 35 MPs have backed him including the former Labour shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who got Labour to back a £58 billion compensation package in the 2019 election campaign; former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and host of other Labour MPs, including Ian Lavery, Tony Lloyd, Mike Amesbury, Richard Burgon and Clive Lewis. It is also supported by Alison Thewlis, the SNP Treasury spokesperson and Chris Stephens, SNP Fair Work and Employment spokesman. Two members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jim Shannon and Gregory Campbell, also backed the motion. The full list is here.

Chloe Smith, work and pensions secretary

The initiative from Waspi involves getting its members to send a template letter to their MP asking them to back their version of compensation for 50s women. For avoidance of any doubt here is the full text which would be sent to Chloe Smith, the new work and pensions secretary.

Chloe Smith MP

Secretary of State

Department for Work and Pensions

Caxton House

Tothill St

London, SW1H 9NA

XX October 2022

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State!

I write in the hope that you may be able to ‘reset’ the government’s relationship with the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, whom I met during the Summer Recess.

Parliamentary answers (see UIN14559) confirm that no Minister in your department has met the campaign since 2016, which is something I am hoping that you and colleagues will be prepared to put right.

As you will know, last year the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has found that the Department was guilty of maladministration, in failing to communicate significant changes to the State Pension Age, which were legislated for in 1995.  Specifically, the PHSO has concluded “the opportunity that additional notice would have given them to adjust their retirement plans was lost…DWP failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information… Despite having identified there was more it could do, it failed to provide the public with as full information as possible.

While the PHSO is continuing to investigate the harm caused to women born in the 1950s, as a result of this maladministration, CEO Amanda Amroliwala has also made clear that the government need not wait for further reports before making an offer of compensation.  In a letter to our parliamentary colleague, Andrew Gwynne, she said, “We must now consider the impact of these failings on the women affected and what recommendations may be needed to remedy any associated injustice. We have suggested to the Department for Work and Pensions that they consider being proactive in this respect”.

Meanwhile, WASPI have recently commissioned research which establishes that, by the end of this year, 220,000 women will have died waiting for compensation since their campaign began in 2015.  Sadly, another woman dies every 14 minutes.

I have been struck during my conversations with the campaigners that they are therefore extremely pragmatic about achieving a resolution quickly.  They are not looking for a long fight with the government, preferring to accept a fair, fast one-off sum for those whose retirements have been devastated by mistakes made at DWP.  Specifically, they are not looking to receive ‘lost’ pension amounts, but rather to be compensated for the maladministration at DWP, which caused them to take decisions they might not otherwise have taken, had they been given proper notice of changes to the law.  Quite sensibly, they are suggesting higher levels of compensation for those given the shortest notice of the longest delay to receipt of their State Pension.

They have been through four stages of complaint at DWP and now face two further stages of the PHSO process.  All the while more of the women affected die waiting, so they are keen to see the proactivity suggested by the PHSO from your department.

Would you prepared to meet with me and with Angela Madden, the Chair of the campaign, together – both so that you can understand the (surprisingly reasonable and pragmatic) position of the campaign, and that they can hear directly from you?

While both they and I recognise that you could not make immediate commitments in any such meeting, I do believe it would be helpful to open a dialogue now rather than have the group getting more and more frustrated that government will not talk to them.  The PHSO’s ongoing investigation is not a reason to postpone discussion, since the substance of maladministration has already been confirmed.

At some point, government (of whichever political stripe) is going to be required by the Ombudsman to make an offer of compensation, so it makes sense to begin the conversation now rather than brooking further delay, during which time – sadly – more and more of the affected women will pass away.

WASPI want compensation for maladministration and nothing for restitution

The letter is a massive reduction on the demands made by the MPs. For a start they want NO rather than FULL restitution for the up to £50,000 lost by 3.6million pensioners. Instead they want an unspecified payment before the Ombudsman decides what level of compensation for maladministration. There is no mention of the £10,000 to £20,000 a head compensation promised by Angela Madden to the 50 people attending the Labour Party fringe meeting last month.

There also is a misconception that the Department for Work and Pensions is required by the Ombudsman to meet them after he has issued his report. This is not true the Ombudsman has no power to require anybody to follow his decisions – as has been shown ( see below) in another case where millions of pensioners have been cheated out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension also promised in the 1990s.

Finally the letter speaking for the 3.6 million people say they are “reasonable and extremely pragmatic people” quite happy to accept a fast buck settlement of few quid to end this dispute. This is not reflected in the comments I receive on this site.. People are livid, angry, despairing of politicians and feel deliberately cheated by the Establishment of what they see rightly as their dues. They are fed up about being thought to be a soft touch just because they are older women. They are prepared to take on the government and refuse to vote for any politician determined to deprive them of their lost pensions.

New petition on Guaranteed Minimum Pensions

Meanwhile a Parliamentary petition has been tabled by Chris Thompson, a retired pensions expert, to restore indexation for a guaranteed minimum state pension for people outside the public sector.

“I want the Government to change the law to reinstate uprating of state pensions in respect of contracted out occupational pensions known as Guaranteed Minimum Pensions (GMP).

“I believe it is not fair that the DWP ceased to uprate state pensions in respect of certain pension entitlements when the new state pension was introduced. I believe this with done without adequate consultation or notice, and should be reversed. “Sign this petition

This followed a victory for two people after they complained of maladministration ( sounds familiar) by the DWP in not informing them of the change depriving them of indexation when the new pension came into force. The Ombudsman laid down what the DWP should to inform people of their rights, but the DWP has not followed this through properly and refused to engaged with anyone. Over a lifetime this could be worth thousands of pounds of lost pensions – and I urge 50swomen to sign this to put more pressure on the DWP. You might be entitled to extra compensation as well as your claim for your lost pensions.

Finally I don’t like to be the harbinger of bad news -but the total disaster of Liz Truss’s government – means we are now going to be faced with a further two years of austerity after she wrecked the British economy.

Sadly this will mean that the government will be extremely reluctant to compensate other people on top of subsidising people’s energy bills and introducing measures to balance the books. I see Angela Madden has managed to get a meeting with former Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt, the current leader of the Commons, who appears to be involved in a plot to topple Truss with Rishi Sunak. The trouble is it is the DWP who are the ministry who will decide this – and they have just been asked by Jeremy Hunt to impose more cuts on top of long term savings to sack 91,000 civil servants across Whitehall. I can’t see them having any interest in settling this at the moment.

One bright spot will be a report by Australian judge Jocelynne Scutt is expected to pull together all the injustices in this case following the tribunal earlier this year. The report is imminent.

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Scandal of the Ministry of Justice’s £200 million plan to imprison more women while providing a tenth of the cash to keep them out of jail

Foston Hall women’s prison. Pic credit: BBC

As the UK faces public spending cuts the Ministry of Justice is embarking on a £200 million plan to expand the women prison population by building 500 new places for women.

The scheme has been condemned by charities from the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League for Penal Reform to Women in Prison and was subject to a highly critical report from MPs on the Commons Justice Committee.

This weekend a report from Women in Prison provided a cost funded case to turn this spending plan on its head by funding women’s centres instead to keep women out of jail and save the NHS, local authorities and the police a shed load of public money in picking up the pieces after prison life.

If you don’t believe this you should read last year’s Chief Inspector of Prisons report on Foston Hall, near Uttoxeter, Derbyshire, the worst women’s prison in the country. housing around 272 women prisoners.

1750 cases of self harm in one year at Foston Hall prison

An unannounced visit found that in one year there were 1750 cases of self harm by the women inmates and a staggering 1000 calls to the Samaritans each month. Two women had killed themselves there since 2019. Other statistics revealed that 20 per cent of the women were released into the community with nowhere to live – adding to the homelessness problem. The prison couldn’t even get people to work there – it had a supposed full staff complement of 110 but only 62 were deployable at any one time. As a result there was a high level of violence and lot of women were segregated.

The report said: “The prison had no strategy to reduce self-harm or improve the care for those in crisis. Recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following their investigation into deaths in custody had still to be addressed and the relatively few women who accounted for most of the
incidents did not have meaningful care plans. The response to women in crisis was too reactive, uncaring and often punitive.”

Contrast this with a plan put forward by the new Women in Prison report. It follows one of the last acts of the Johnson government to allocate £24m – compared to £200m for new prison places – to develop women’s centres as an alternative to prison.

Women in Prison point out that just one centre “receiving £1m in a given year can support over 650 women and generate £2.75m in public sector savings, while providing a lifeline for vital services and significantly improving wellbeing for women and their children. The savings would go to local authorities (47%), the Ministry of Justice (17%), the NHS (15%), the Police (10%), the Department for Work and Pensions (9%) and HM Revenue and Customs (2%).”

Instead nearly half of Women’s Centres surveyed said they are concerned about their survival because the £24m is being parcelled out in short term funding spread across the country. Once the money runs out centres face closure.

Anawin Women’s Centre pic credit: Anawin

Joy Doal, Chief Executive of Anawim Women’s Centre in Birmingham said: “We are struggling. The needs of the women we work with are becoming more complex. We are witnessing the fallout from  Covid-19 – which is driving mental health problems – and an alarming number of women driven into poverty due to rising bills. On top of that our own costs are skyrocketing due to inflation and the rise in living costs. Now more than ever, we need sustainable, long-term funding to ensure we can continue meeting the ever growing needs of the women we work with.”

To me this seems just one more example of the lack of joined up thinking in Whitehall. The Women in Prison charity have done a great job not only in highlighting what is going wrong but in providing a fully costed solution that ought to be sent to the Treasury post haste. One example of a woman ending up in prison because they have mental health problems was covered on my blog earlier this year. See it here.

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Whistleblower doctors fury over Roddis Associates suitability to run medical ethics courses for the Medical Defence Union

Doctors involved in high profile whistleblower cases have put in complaints to the Medical Defence Union over a day long virtual course in medical ethics run by a clinical management company that makes tens of thousands of pounds from NHS trusts challenging doctors who raise patient safety issues.

Tomorrow the MDU host a course run by Dr Mike Roddis of MJ Roddis Associates and Claire McLaughlan, who is also occasionally employed by M J Roddis, on medical ethics. I have already published a profile of Claire McLaughlan here.

Details of the course are here and the MDU is charging £249 a head (£149 for members) and it is already sold out.

The dispute over both Dr Mike Roddis and Claire McLaughlan involvement in the medical ethics issue comes from doctors who have been at the receiving end of reports written by both of them which are used by NHS health trusts to discredit whistleblowers at employment tribunal hearings. The work they do for trusts – in two recent cases – involve helping the trust to either downplay or dismiss the deaths of people in NHS hospitals.

This has led to highly critical letters going into the MDU from junior doctors and consultants including the Justice for Doctors organisation.

Dr Chris Day

One of the complainants is Dr Chris Day – currently awaiting the result of a tribunal covered by this blog into patient safety concerns at Woolwich Hospital, where two patients died in its intensive care unit because the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust ignored national staffing guidelines for intensive care units.

Dr Mike Roddis and Claire McLaughlan produced a report for the trust entirely ignoring this.

Dr Day says that he is shocked that the MDU is employing two investigators implicated in the cover up of his whistleblowing complaint to lecture on medical ethics. Their report was heavily criticised by Dr Megan Smith, a consultant anaesthetist and witness at Dr Day’s employment tribunal hearing in June.

Her statement is here and there is a report on my blog here. She told the tribunal:

“You would not find an anaesthetist or ICU doctor in the country who would accept those ratios. There was a clear and present danger to patient safety – no question about that.”

Dr Usha Prasad

Dr Usha Prasad, a former consultant cardiologist at Epsom and St Helier University NHS Trust, has written in similar terms to the MDU.

She wrote; “Claire Mclaughlan was the Chair of the internal appeal panel, hired by Epsom & St Helier Hosptial and her involvement including one sided conclusion was greatly damaging to my career…

“I am shocked to find that the MDU are using the very same investigator implicated in the cover up of whistleblowing cases. The MDU is using them to present a seminar on medical ethics of all topics which is very worrying. “

Her case, among other matters, involved the ” avoidable death” “of a cardiology patient at the hospital which was not reported to the coroner.

David Ward and Jane Somerville, two distinguished retired consultants have written to the MDU about both cases.

“We are retired physicians supporting NHS whistleblowers. We are aware of the MDU’s invitation to Roddis Associates and Claire McLaughlan to participate in a meeting on the subject of Medical Ethics. We are alarmed and dismayed to say the least.”

” Ms Claire McLaughlan was hired by St Helier Hospital Trust to undertake investigations and chair a Maintaining High Professional Standards (MHPS) hearing for Dr Usha Prasad. The outcome, published in June 2020, recommended her dismissal from the NHS Hospital where she had been working as a consultant cardiologist for over a decade (and with numerous plaudits from patients and administrators). 

“Some spurious and non-legal reasons were included in Ms McLaughlan’s written judgement recommending dismissal (these are the subject of an 3 inquiries which we have referred to the to the Ministry of Justice, the Tribunals President Barry Clarke and to the National Medical Director, Sir Stephen Powis). Given what we know about the conduct of these companies who claim to “help” doctors, we are extremely concerned about their ability to present meaningful, honest and understandable concepts in Medical Ethics.”

Justice for Doctors complains to MDU

The organisation Justice for Doctors has also complained to the MDU. A letter from doctors Salam-al- Sam and Azhar Ansari said:

“We learned to our disbelief that the MDU has invited Claire McLaughlan to talk about the subject of medical ethics at a shortly coming meeting.

“We write to express our serious concerns supported by more than 100 members of a group of doctors and other professionals known as Justice for Doctors. Many members were victims of those who made a fortune from NHS money by destroying the livelihood and reputation of intelligent, hardworking, and committed doctors simply because they did not remain silent when witnessing bad practices, bullying, fraud, and similar despicable acts on the NHS premises. Roddis Associates and Claire McLaughlan were hired for a fee originating from taxpayers which is supposed to be used for patient care to complete the acts of abusers of power in our NHS.  We and members of Justice for Doctors urge you to reconsider your plan and ask you not to encourage such individuals to spoil the reputation of your good offices.”

The MDU did not wish to comment on the letters.

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That confidential Ombudsman’s report on 50swomen pensions summary in full: For the benefit of all WASPI members

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

My reporting and coverage of the confidential provisional Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Report into the maladministration has caused considerable controversy particularly among the people at the top of Waspi. People who follow me on Backto60 have been very grateful for keeping them informed. People on Waspi have objected to me publishing it at all and have kept their members in the dark about its contents. Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, is constrained by law from publishing it while his investigation continues. People at the top of Waspi have accused me of only publishing snippets which undermine Waspi’s case.

To dispel any doubts here is the full summary of his findings (the report is 298 paragraphs long) – though there is a link in a comment on my previous blog to the full report in the comments section. You can see the Ombudsman makes it clear that maladministration over a 28 month period ” caused complainants unnecessary stress and anxiety and meant an opportunity to lessen their distress was lost.  For some complainants, it also caused unnecessary worry and confusion.” But it rejects that ” this maladministration led to the financial losses complainants claim.”

In other words it has no intention of compensating people who have lost up to £50,000 through the changes or anywhere near this. Need I say more. Here is the summary.

Provisional views

Reference: SPA (stage 2) Complained about:           Department for Work and Pensions                           Independent Case Examiner

The issues we are considering and our provisional views

  1. In July 2021 we issued the report for stage one of our investigation into complaints about the adequacy of DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age, and associated issues.  We found that maladministration led to a delay in DWP writing directly to women about changes to their State Pension age. 
  • We are now working on stage two of our investigation.  This stage is considering complaints about:
  • DWP’s communication of changes to the number of qualifying years National Insurance contributions required for a full State Pension
    • DWP’s complaint handling
    • the Independent Case Examiner’s (ICE’s) handling of complaints about DWP’s communication of State Pension age changes.  
  • It is also considering the impact of any failings by DWP and ICE, including the injustice arising from the maladministration identified during stage one of our investigation.   
  • This document sets out:
  • a summary of our provisional views
    • the evidence we are considering
    • our analysis so far of DWP’s communication of changes to National

Insurance qualifying years, including o background 

  • what should have happened – the relevant standards 
    • what did happen o our provisional views
    • our analysis so far of DWP’s and ICE’s complaint handling, including o what should have happened – the relevant standards
      • what did happen o our provisional views

our analysis so far of injustice

Summary of our provisional views

  • The evidence we have seen so far suggests timely and accurate information was available about the change in eligibility criteria for a State Pension, including how someone’s National Insurance record links to how much State Pension they can claim once they reach State Pension age.  Research showed the majority of people knew about the changes.
  • However, research also showed that too many people did not understand their own situations and how State Pension reform affected them.  The gap between awareness and understanding was highlighted by the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office. DWP does not appear to have used research and feedback to improve its service and performance.  In this respect, DWP does not seem to have demonstrated principles of good administration.  We think that was maladministration. However, we do not think this maladministration led to the financial losses complainants claim.
  • Before 2016, people built up ‘qualifying years’ towards a Basic State Pension by paying National Insurance or through, for example, receiving benefits credits towards their National Insurance record.  Some people paid National Insurance to build up entitlement to an earnings-related State Pension on top of the Basic State Pension.  The earnings-related State Pension was called the Additional State Pension.  
  • Not everyone paid National Insurance towards the Additional State Pension.  Some people who joined personal or occupational pension schemes ‘contracted out’ of the Additional State Pension when they joined those schemes. While they continued to build up qualifying years for a Basic State Pension, they gave up their entitlement to the Additional State Pension. So, a person who had always contracted out would have been entitled to the Basic State Pension and their personal or occupational pension when they reached State Pension age, instead of being entitled to the Basic State Pension and Additional State Pension.
  • From April 2016, the new State Pension replaced the Basic State Pension and the Additional State Pension.  The full rate of the new State Pension is higher than the full rate of the old Basic State Pension.  People who were contracted out of the Additional State Pension before April 2016 but have reached or will reach State Pension age after April 2016 may not be eligible for the full rate of new State Pension.  A ‘contracted out deduction’ is made when calculating their starting amount of new State Pension to reflect the fact they contributed less into the National Insurance system in return for a personal or occupational pension. 
  1. Transitional arrangements introduced with the new State Pension mean that none of the complainants – or people like them – will get less State Pension under the ‘new’ rules introduced in April 2016 than they would have got under the ‘old’ ones.  DWP compares what they would have been entitled to under the old system and what they are entitled to under the new system, and they get the higher of these amounts.  The transitional arrangements also allow them to do things to add to their starting amount of new State Pension if it is lower than the full rate.  Having considered the complainants’ individual circumstances, we do not think they have lost any opportunities to add to their starting amount. 
  1. We also do not think maladministration in DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age more likely than not led to all the financial, health, domestic and emotional consequences complainants claim. Complainants told us they made choices they would not have made if they had known their State Pension age had changed, and described the financial, family and health consequences those choices have had.  However, some of their choices had already been made by the time DWP should have written to them about changes resulting from the 1995 Pensions Act.  We do not think women lost opportunities to make different decisions, if those decisions had already been made by the time DWP should have written to them.
  1. However, we think an additional 28 months’ notice would have given complainants opportunities to consider, for example, saving, looking for work or changing job.  While there is too much we cannot now know for us to be able say what would have happened, it seems that some women are left not knowing whether they could have been in a different financial position, and whether they could have avoided the health and emotional consequences they claim.  We think that not knowing is an injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.
  1. We also think the anger and outrage complainants feel about not having as much notice of their State Pension age as they should have, could have been avoided if DWP had written to them when it should have.  Their sense of anger and outrage is a further injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.
  1. We think some aspects of DWP’s complaint handling reflected applicable standards.  But, DWP does not appear to have adequately investigated or responded to the complaints it was considering, or avoided unnecessary delay.  In these respects, DWP does not seem to have demonstrated principles of good complaint handling.  We think that was also maladministration. 
  1. We think maladministration in DWP’s complaint handling caused complainants unnecessary stress and anxiety and meant an opportunity to lessen their distress was lost.  For some complainants, it also caused unnecessary worry and confusion.
  1. We think ICE’s complaint handling reflected applicable standards and guidance.  ICE appears to have acted within the scope of its remit, which is set out in its contract with DWP. We note, however, our view that the contract meant ICE could not address complainants’ key concern that they did not have as much personal notice of changes to their State Pension age as they should have.
  1. Finally, we think ICE should have said that it could not determine whether or not DWP had written to individual complainants who said they had never received a letter about their State Pension age, instead of telling them it was more likely than not they had been sent a letter.  But even if ICE had appropriately balanced the evidence in this way, we do not think the shortcoming in its handling of this issue was significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’.

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