John McDonnell explains the Labour pensions offer to 50swomen over more than tea and sympathy.

John McDonnell with Azhar Ali, Labour candidate for Pendle, explaining the offer to some of the women

For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package

There are a number of new points revealed in this video.

  1. Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
  2. The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
  3. Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
  4. Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
  5. He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
  6. Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
  7. Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
  8. Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
  9. He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
  10. Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.

On Byline Times: Labour ambush the Tories over 50swomen pensions:is it an election game changer?

Standing firm for full restitution for 50swomen

This article unlike my earlier one on the offer of compensation to 3.8 million 50swomen looks at the political moves that led Labour to make this offer which is not full restitution. It asks whether it is going to be a game changer in the 2019 General election? Read it in full on Byline Times here.

Labour’s new deal for 50swomen’s lost pensions: What does it mean?

Crowds of BackTo60 supporters after the judicial review hearing

Labour today broke through the political barrier of just offering tea and sympathy for 3.8 million women who had to wait up to six years for their pensions.

And coming only 24 hours after Boris Johnson announced that the Conservative Party would not give a penny in compensation to any of the women affected by this appalling scandal it is a major advance.

First the positives. It is a huge improvement on the offer available from the All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue co chaired by Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for Worthing East and Shoreham and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea,East. The sums are obvious. Tim Loughton is on record of seeking £2 billion compensation, Labour is offering to spend £58 billion over five years.

From what I could gather – despite both MPs declining to answer any of my questions – it would have meant probably only £73 a week on benefit for women who have still not gained the pension in two years time and nothing for the rest, who form the vast majority of people involved.

It is also – and this is very important considering the age of people involved- to start pretty soon if Labour is elected. This compared with the previous APPG proposal with no firm date for implementation and the longer the delay, fewer people would have got anything.

As John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, said: ” “We will introduce it as rapidly as we probably can and we will try to ensure the payments are made promptly. …… we are hoping that people will appreciate the sense of injustice and anger that these women feel about the changes that were imposed upon them.”

And it is helpful for people who had relied on the now outdated married woman’s national insurance contribution to build up their pension entitlement since to get compensation Labour is treating all cases as though they paid the full national insurance stamp which would increase their entitlement.

It is also by far the best offer on the table for the December 12 election as it compares with nothing from the Conservatives and an offer from the Liberal Democrats to obtain compensation through the Ombudsman. Again that would depend when the Ombudsman considered the case and whether he decided to award any compensation.

Now the pitfalls. First it is paid at the rate of £100 a week over five years for all those born before 6 April 1955 rather than a lump sum. It is also taxed. As one of the arguments by the numerous detractors from the private pension industry -is that it should be means tested, very wealthy people will have to return, under Labour, half the payment to the state. Those who are really poor will get it tax free – because there is no tax next year on the first £12,500 of income. And this limit will probably rise over the period.

Second the scheme is complicated and the amount of compensation will be different for each individual.

Broadly it looks as though compensation will rise from a month’s loss of pension (£400) to a maximum of £31,379 for those born up to April 5 1955. It would then gradually fall again until disappearing altogether for those born after April 5 1960. The figure paid out will fall from £100 a week to a lower sum depending on a person’s date of birth from 6 April 1955.

In general terms this means that those born up to April 5 1955 will fare better than those after- though those born in the rest of 1955 will still get high compensation.

What this mean for those born earlier and have or about to get their pension that they will be guaranteed an extra £100 a week for up to five years depending on their birth date.

What the deal is not full restitution given that some women have lost up to £50,000. However Back to 60, have raised enough money through their crowdfunder, to continue their legal action and are seeking permission at the Court of Appeal to appeal the ruling.

The fact that BackTo60 went to the courts prompted Labour to prepare a much more generous offer for the 50swomen – their briefing makes it clear that this was in their mind.

” It’s a one-off historical redress for a historical wrong, so the state will be expected to find the money, just as it would do if the Government lost a court case.”

This is the opposite to the view of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who takes the position ” we act within the law” and the defeat means no money need ever be paid.

The fact that both Unison and Unite unions supported full restitution was also hugely influential in Labour’s thinking.

Labour’s manifesto has promised talks with all groups before it is implemented which will give all 50swomen representatives the chance to comment and discuss the implementation of the scheme.

Last night Waspi Ltd – which has not wanted full restitution – and ” We paid in, you pay out ” were advising their supporters to back Labour at the general election.

BackTo60 which never intended to advise its voters which way to vote – will produce a comparative guide to all the offers from the main parties to 50swomen and leave it to their supporters to draw their own conclusions on how they wish to cast their votes.

John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said
“We’ve prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong. It’s one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they’ve had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.

“Some of them have been hit by a combination of poverty and stress, having lost out on what they had contributed towards. These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when go into government we are going to fulfil that debt.”

John McDonnell to announce Labour’s plans for WASPI women on Sunday – Shadow Cabinet minister’s leaked Facebook message

Andrew Gwynne’s message that suggests more to come

The Labour Party is to flesh out details on Sunday of how it will financially compensate some 3.8 million women many of whom are enduring enforced poverty after having to wait up to six years to get their basic state pension.

The party’s manifesto yesterday pledged full support for the women and promised talks if it wins the next general election to draw up a compensation package.

But it did not put any cash figure on what it would pay the women or make any provision in the Grey Book to fund it.

This is in sharp contrast to a pledge given to pensioners living overseas in places like Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and many Caribbean countries which is fully costed in the manifesto. It would come into force in April and could £500m spread over four years. This is a victory for the all party group that campaigned for the pensioners and will mean their pensions would get their first uprating for years. If Britain leaves the EU pensioners living there would also get a permanent uprating rather than just for three years under the Tories.

The failure to mention any money for the women last night provoked a furious reaction from the women with many tweeting their anger to John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor and others saying Jeremy Corbyn had lost their vote.

Andrew Gwynne Pic Credit: andrewgwynne.co.uk

However one woman challenged Andrew Gwynne, the party’s shadow communities secretary, warning that Labour’s manifesto announcement did not ” look good”.

Gwynne replied: ” Yes John McDonnell is making an announcement on Sunday about how we will honour the pledge on Page 75 of the manifesto to the 1950s women. the costings are separate to the grey book.”

I have since heard from sources that this is indeed the case but Labour are being tight lipped again about what they are going to announce.

John McDonnell; Shadow Chancellor Pic Credit: Channel 4 News

The full manifesto section reads:

Pensions

People work hard for most of their lives and deserve a decent retirement free of financial stress and insecurity.

Under the Tories, 400,000 pensioners have been pushed into poverty and a generation of women born in the 1950s have had their pension age changed without fair notification.

This betrayal left millions of women with no time to make alternative plans – with sometimes devastating personal consequences.

Labour recognises this injustice, and will work with these women to design a system of recompense for the losses and insecurity they have suffered.

We will ensure that such an injustice can never happen again by legislating to prevent accrued rights to the state pension from being changed.

The Conservatives have repeatedly raised the state pension age despite overseeing a decline in life expectancy. Labour will abandon the Tories’ plans.

All I can say is that John McDonnell better come up with something concrete rather than warm words or else they are going to be 3.8 million women voters who are going to be bitterly disappointed, judging from the tweets I have seen, and Labour could well lose many potential votes on December 12 – not only from them – but from their spouses and families.

Frankly I am bit puzzled why they are doing this and prolonging the suspense..

Tory election strategy: Don’t pledge anything to 3.8 million 50s born women who lost their pensions

Pic credit: Sky News

A leaked document in today’s Guardian revealed what Conservative Central Office has said to all its Parliamentary candidates on how to avoid giving pledges to people during the election campaign.

It covers a wide variety of issues including Brexit, the NHS, trade deals, Voter ID, private schools, rivers, climate change and shooting. But a special section has been devoted to the Waspi campaign showing that MPs are acutely aware of the demands of 3.8 million who are waiting up to six years for a pension.

The section reproduced below includes a template letter to be sent to anybody inquiring what the Conservative candidate’s views are on paying women. So you needn’t bother writing as this will be the reply. It is more about future pensions – claiming that by 2030 pensioners will be £550 a year better off under the Conservatives. It also contains a 20 year old attack line on Labour reminding people that Gordon Brown once raised pensions by only 75p a week in 2000.

The Tory advice to all candidates: Don’t sign any pledge to any WASPI or BackTo60 group

Rather extraordinarily there is one pledge all candidates can sign – that is supporting any rural sport especially shooting. Here candidates are free to support any pledges. This is almost Trumpian in its advice – put guns before pensioners.

The two legal views on the rights of 3.8 million 1950s women to get full restitution for their lost pensions

BackTo60 outside Royal Courts of Justice

The decision by Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple to dismiss ALL claims of discrimination and failure to inform 3.8 million women born in the 1950s about the rise in their state pension age from 60 to 66 is in total contrast to the decision of Mrs Justice Lang who granted ALL the claims to be heard four months ago.

Obviously there is a big difference between permission for a judicial review to be granted so the case can be argued than a judicial hearing where the arguments are tested.

Nevertheless this startling contrast to me suggests that there are grounds for an appeal because the two judgments are so far apart. That is presumably why the two judges did not ban an appeal.

To remind people Mrs Justice Lang decided that even though the 1995 Pensions Act was passed 24 years ago the effect of the implementation of the Act was happening now and therefore this issue was subject to judicial review. She also agreed that both age and sex discrimination could be part of the hearing, and the issue on whether government action was contrary to EU directives on social security and whether people had been adequately informed about the changes.

The two judges have rejected all of this and upheld the case put by the Department of Work and Pensions in its entirety. No wonder the DWP is cock a hoop today.

They describe any challenge to primary legislation passed over 20 years ago as ” fatal” and they have published in detail all the attempts by the DWP to inform people. They have included discussions from 1993 onwards about changing the law as part of informing people.

But they abrogate any responsibility on whether the DWP did a good job or not. ” We are not in a position to conclude that the steps taken to inform those people affected by the changes to the state pension age for women were inadequate or unreasonable”.

They have also accepted the DWP’s argument that it was under no obligation to tell people at all and certainly not to individually informing anybody about the change because it was not written into the law.

This ruling should be a red line for MPs to insist in the future that any Parliamentary legislation that affects millions of people must include a clause requiring a ministry to individually inform the people affected in language they can understand and in good time.

Goodwill or good sense is obviously not enough to be left in the hands of individual ministers. It must be made mandatory that people are told.

The arguments over whether government action in handling the rise in the pension age contradicted EU directives amounted to age and sex discrimination or indirect legislation are complex.

But broadly the judges have accepted the DWP’s interpretation of the wording so as to exclude the changes to the pension age from any such directives.

They have also ruled out the role of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from having any bearing on the case.

” We have not been assisted by reference to CEDAW, it adds nothing to the claimaint’s case”, they say.

Their main argument is that the 1995 Pensions Act removed an advantage (my emphasis) that women had over men at the time they retired and anyway the decision was part of primary legislation which could not be challenged.

Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales and an expert on CEDAW, says the judges have misunderstood the purpose of CEDAW which could make a possible grounds for appeal.

In her view the Judges did not consider the cumulative effect of unequal laws in the past on this particular group of women who were denied contributing to their own pensions when they worked part time which is one of the issues covered by CEDAW.

The judges also ruled out the recent victories in civil service and firefighters pensions having any bearing on the case because they involved transitional arrangements for work pensions rather than their right to a state pension.

Despite the harshness of the judgement the immediate effect has been to create widespread sympathy for the plight of the 50swomen in the media, among the general public and brought finally to national attention the whole issue.

It has also galvanised campaigners to fight on and with a general election on the horizon to put politicians in all political parties under pressure. It could cost the government, if it does nothing, 3.8 million votes from people who reliably go down to the polling station.

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.