Tomorrow’s pension judicial decision for 3.8 million 50s born women will be a landmark event

50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

While the media has been almost entirely focused on Brexit tomorrow’s judicial decision on whether 3.8 million women born in the 1950s are entitled to full restitution for the pension they lost will be ground breaking.

The BackTo60 campaign brought the case using individual examples of hardship caused by successive governments raising the women’s pension age from 60 to 66 and not taking action to give them adequate notice of the change.

Whatever decision is made it will not mean the lowering of the current pension age of 66 and will have no effect on the primary legislation that introduced the change – the 1995 Pension Act. It is entirely about compensation and discrimination towards this group of women as a result of the implementation of this and subsequent Acts of Parliament – again by successive governments- of the change.

Frankly it has not been surprising that two judges have taken nearly four months to reach a decision – even though it has been frustrating for the women themselves – many of whom have suffered severe financial hardship.

If it was a simple decision – just pay out the money – or say there is no case to answer and it can be easily dismissed- we would have had a decision months ago.

Instead the judges will have had to consider both UK and EU law and the UK’s ratification by Margaret Thatcher of the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW) – which specifies that women who have suffered discrimination must be fully compensated.

The fact that CEDAW is part of this judicial review affecting so many people is in itself ground breaking. The only other contentious issue where CEDAW has been used before, to my knowledge, is the Labour Party’s decision to apply it under the Equality Act – to use it for all women shortlists to change the composition of Parliament.

The other key issue is whether the 1995 Pensions Act itself years after it was passed created discrimination against women who are now suffering hardship. This was a key feature of the granting of the judicial review in the first place by Mrs Justice Lang who rejected the Department of Work and Pensions argument that the challenge to the 1995 Act was too late. She saw instead the courts intervening to relieve the plight of women suffering now – rather than a tardy response to legislation passed over 20 years ago. It will more than interesting to see the judges’ ruling on this point.

What will also be important will be the judges ‘reaction to the case put forward by the government’s top lawyer, Sir James Eadie, known as the Treasury Devil, who did not just accept that the women had not been informed of the change but said the DWP has no duty under the 1995 Act to inform them in the first place.

If this was accepted by the judges it would mean that nobody was entitled to be informed by law about any change in their pension – not just the 1950s women.

The opposite case was put by Michael Mansfield who argued that the Government’s decision was an ” abuse of power” which had targeted a large sub group of people who had endured hardship.

Whatever the decision tomorrow it will be a landmark one – not only for women who had to wait up to six years for their pension but also for age and sex discrimination.

On Byline Times: Government and Opposition clash over ” tinfoil hat” tale on hedge funds exploiting No Deal Brexit

Pic credit: parliament.uk

The row over whether hedge fund and City trader backers of Boris Johnson could make hundreds of millions of pounds by speculating on a No Deal Brexit reached Parliament today when the government was challenged by the Opposition parties  to explain whether this amounted to a conflict of interest or breach of the ministerial code  by the  PM. Read the full tale on Byline Times.

On Byline Times: Cabinet Office propriety probe into Boris Johnson’s Hedge Fund backers

Boris Johnson in full flood on his Parliamentary statement on the Supreme Court. Pic Credit: UK Parliament/ Jessica Taylor

Given the enormous interest into Johnson’s determination to leave the EU on October 31, there are questions about the huge hedge fund and City trader financial backing for his leadership campaign this deal when they stand to make billions of pounds on shares and the potential collapse of the pound. Read my story on Byline Times here.

Labour’s top people start at last to move to compensate 1950s born women pension losers

In conversation at the private meeting. Left to Right: Moira Ramage, prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate for Paisley and renfrewshire South;myself; Laura Alvarez and Baroness Blower

Senior Labour figures are preparing to improve their offer to compensate 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are facing hardship by having to wait up to six years for their pensions.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, indicated that the party is now looking at a new offer as the general election approaches.

 He made the comment after a private meeting at Labour’s annual conference this week organised by his office which enabled leading figures from campaigning organisations fighting the women’s cause to pitch their case to senior people from the Labour Party.

The meeting came as the two largest trade unions affiliated to Labour, Unison and Unite, backed the case for full restitution for the women. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, personally endorsed full restitution, in a tweet. The party is also discussing putting the offer in its general election manifesto.

Among the leading figures at the meeting were Laura Alvarez, the wife of Jeremy Corbyn: Andy Whitaker and Rory Macqueen respectively head of strategic communications and chief economic adviser at John McDonnell’s office; Mike Amesbury, shadow employment minister, and Fran Springfield, co chair of Labour’s disability organisation and one of the people drawing up the party’s manifesto. Mr McDonnell came to the end of the meeting.

The whole cast of #50swomen and their supporters at the meeting pose for the camera

The organisations represented included BackTo60, Waspi Scotland, Waspi Ltd and Waspi 2018.

 They were backed up by two women from Unison in Wales, Lianne Dallimore and Mac Hawkins who also addressed the meeting.

Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales, also pressed the case for full restitution and explained how it come done by a special temporary measure through Parliament using the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) which was ratified by Margaret t5hatcher in 1986. This allows the money to be paid without amending the present pension age of 66 for men and women.

At present Labour’s offer is confined to backdating payments for two years from 66 to 64  for 1950s born women but no further compensation.

Labour is also waiting the result of the judicial review held in June where Michael Mansfield, QWC put the case for full restitution for all 50s women. It has now been announced it will report on October 3 – next Thursday.

Among other people who attended the meeting were Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National union of Teachers, who is about to be ennobled as Baroness Blower; Labour MP for Ipswich Sandy Martin; Labour MEPs Jude Kirton-Darling and Richard Corbett. Moira Ramage, prospective Labour candidate for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

Revealed:The chaotic free prescription and dental treatment scandal

An example of an attempt to check whether you are entitled to a free prescription by Trent Valley Surgery

If you are under 60 and over 16 do you know when you can get a free prescription and free dental treatment? No, if you don’t you are in good company and if you claim could even be one of 1.7 million people in England falsely sent a £100 penalty by the NHS.

A absolutely scathing report out today from MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee today describes the whole system for regulating free prescriptions and dental services as ” not fit for purpose “.

It reveals that despite a so called 24 page ” simplified ” guide telling you when you qualify most people are completely confused and rightly so.And if you get it wrong you are automatically guilty of fraud and get a £100 penalty fine rising to £150 if you don’t pay it promptly.

The report said :” Exemptions from prescription and dental charges include age, maternity, receipt of certain means-tested benefits, low income, and long-term medical conditions in some cases, although we are told that this list of long-term conditions has not been updated for 50 years [YES 50 YEARS -my point] save the addition of cancer in 2009. “

Worse qualification for a free prescription does not automatically qualify you for free dental treatment. And if you are on Universal Credit your right to claim will vary from month to month depending on your income.

The report says : “There is currently no way of indicating receipt of Universal Credit on prescription forms, resulting in more confusion, and the Department for Work and Pensions does not confirm eligibility when they write to claimants about their confirmed benefit entitlements.”

The result of all this chaos is that since 2014 no fewer than 5.6 million penalty notices have been issued and 1.7 million have had to dropped once the person challenged it because it was found out they were entitled to claim.

Naturally the threat of penalities has made vulnerable people more frightened of going to the dentist for essential treatment in case they were fined and to get prescription medicines.

Worse the policing of the system to prevent fraud has been an abysmal failure. The report found “nearly 115,000 people have received five or more PCNs [penalty notices] for prescriptions, over 1,600 have received 20 or more—yet only five cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. Only one has been heard in court ” Yes that it right one court case.

And anyway the NHS does not have a proper system for collecting the debt – relying in part on Capita.

The MPs said: “The PCN process generated a net yield of £25 million for the NHS, a pitiful sum compared to the annual cost of prescriptions which is around £9 billion. We do not dispute that it is right to try and deter fraud and recover costs mistakenly paid by the NHS, but the current system is not fit for purpose.

Now there is a simple high tech solution to check prescription entitlement in real time – and the government is committed to eventually introducing a computerised system. It is trialing one now in just four chemists. How pathetic is that.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, makes some very pertinent points .

Patients find it very confusing to understand whether or not they can claim free prescriptions or dental treatment because of a convoluted system that causes patients, in some cases, distress.

“A presumption of guilt means penalty charge notices are issued too readily, particularly where vulnerable people are concerned. Yet where there is clear evidence that people are persistently committing fraud by making false claims, there has been a failure to take effective action.

The Committee fully support efforts to deter fraud and pursue those who claim exemptions to which they are not entitled to but the current penalty notice system is cumbersome, inefficient and not fit for purpose.

The Department should substantially overhaul the system, so that those who are rightfully entitled to free prescriptions and dental treatment get the exemption they deserve.”

Over to the NHS to sort out this scandal – one among many. MPs want to call officials back next year to explain how they have solved it.

In Union News: Britain’s biggest public sector union Unison supports BackTo60

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison.

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.

On Byline Times: MPs slam secrecy and cover up over Brexit management consultancy contracts

Whitehall claimed ” administrative error” for all the secrecy

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.

Full story on Byline Times.