50’s Women:”Nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months” – Theresa May’s crass error

theresa may in parliament

Theresa May in Parliament Picture YouTube

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There was an extraordinary error by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she was challenged by Ian Blackford, the Scottish Nationalist leader, at Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament today.

Mr Blackford used one of his two questions to raise the plight of the 3.8 million WASPI women who have been hit by the government’s  decision to raise the pension age from 60 to 65, then 66 and 67.

Mr Blackford asked: “Yesterday we celebrated the achievements of the suffragette movement, which was about democracy, equality and fairness for women.

“However, today in the United Kingdom, 3.8 million women are not receiving the pension to which they are entitled. A motion in this House last November, which received unanimous cross-party support—the vote was 288 to zero—called on the Government in London to do the right thing. Will the Prime Minister do her bit for gender equality and end the injustice faced by 1950s women.”

The Prime minister replied:

“As people are living longer, it is important that we equalise the pension age of men and women. We are doing that, and we are doing it faster. We have already acted to give more protection to the women involved. An extra £1 billion has been put in to ensure that nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months. That was a real response to the issue that was being addressed. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about equality, he has to recognise the importance of the equality of the state pension age between men and women.”

What this showed is what 3.8 million women waiting up to SIX years for their delayed pension have yet to get the message across. Theresa May just thinks you have a little wait of 18 months. And this £1.1 billion  concession is just a future cost to the government over the next two years, no money has been paid out yet.

This ignorance – caused by her only taking into account the changes in 2011 affecting the rise in the pension  age from 65 to 66 for both men and women – shows how ignorant the Prime Minister is.  Considering she is in that age group herself – but guaranteed to get a large Parliamentary and Prime Ministerial pension in her right-plus a big payout for her wealthy hubby – shows the gulf between the Metropolitan elite and the ordinary person. Mo misery for her in her old age.

But it was good news that the SNP leadership were taking women pensioners plight seriously. About time Labour and Liberal Democrats did the same.

UPDATE:  Ian Blackford said today (Thurs) : ” The Prime Minister’s reply was outrageous. She was being economical with the truth. We are all know there have been some horrible cases as a result of this policy and something will have to be done.

“I am not just sympathetic I will not let this matter go.”

Later Guy Opperham, under secretary for works and pensions, made a statement in Parliament saying  the government were  not going to do anything and would fight any legal challenge by the 3.8 million people to change its mind. He was cagey about announcing the last date when people who were never told about the change until years afterwards could complain about maladministration.

Watch him and the short debate that followed here

Guy Opperman has a majority of 9,286 over Labour in his Hexham constituency in Northumberland. There are 6000 constituents who are 50s women and have suffered from a policy he has no intention of changing. If they all switched to his nearest challenger he could lose his seat. That is up to you.

How angry 50s women deprived of a pension can boot their MP out of a job

 

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Home secretary Amber Rudd- most high profile Tory who could be unseated by angry people who have lost their pension for up to six years Pic credit: BBC

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Many angry  50s women  frustrated they can’t get a pension for up to six years – have the power at the ballot box to knock out the MPs who voted for the change. Since the next general election will be closely fought and many seats have narrow majorities they are literally – no pun intended -in poll position to effect change.

There isn’t a constituency in the United Kingdom that has less than 3000 of  these pensioners according to a breakdown helpfully provided by the House of Commons library.

And it is the current Theresa May government and her DUP allies  who are vigorously pursuing  higher and higher  retirement ages for future generations of pensioners that are the MPs most at risk. The Conservatives got a high proportion of votes from the over 60s at the last general election so  need these votes to win the next election.

The biggest voter power of this group  is in the Isle of Wight – where there are over 10,000 people affected by the raising of the pension age.The Tory MP, Bob Seely appears to have an impregnable 20,998 majority – but that would be halved if this group of people voted didn’t vote for him.. The main challenger there is Labour who came second and if people switched their vote to Labour it would become a highly marginal seat.

Much more vulnerable is home secretary  and ironically women and equalities minister Amber Rudd, whose Hastings and Rye seat, has 7400 people affected. She has a majority of 366 and Labour is the main challenger. There are 20 times more people hit by the change than her majority.

Another ultra marginal is Calder Valley where the Conservative MP Craig Whittaker,a Treasury whip, has a majority of 609 over Labour. There are 7000 people affected by the change in his constituency.

Similarly Corby where Tom Pursglove has a Conservative majority of 2,690 – it is more than outnumbered by 7,300 people affected. Both Milton Keynes seats (North and South) have small 2000+ Tory majorities but over 14,000 people affected between them.  And Scarborough where Conservative MP Robert Goodwill has a 3435 majority is dwarfed by 7,100 people affected.

The entire London borough of  Barnet  is another  hotspot.  Chipping Barnet, where Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP and ex minister, has a 353 majority has 6,200 people affected. Labour is again the main challenger. Next door Hendon which also has 6.200 people affected. Tory MP Matthew Offord has a majority of 1072 over Labour .In Finchley and Golders Green Tory Mike Freer has a majority of 1657 over Labour and there are 6000 people affected.

There are also a string of  safe Tory seats with between  7,000 and 7,800 pensioners who have lost out where the Tory majority can be severely dented or turned into marginals by switching to the highest challenger. Among these are  Beverley and Holderness ( Graham Stuart majority 14,042); Bridgewater and West Somerset ( Ian Liddell-Grainger majority 15,448); Croydon South ( Chris Philp majority 11,406); South Dorset ( Richard Drax majority 11,695), Wells (James Heappey, majority 7585 over liberal democrat) and Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk ( John Lamont, majority 11,060).

Among Labour seats with over 7,000 pensioners affected  include marginal Colne Valley (Thelma Walker majority 915) and  safe seats Croydon North and Brent North. The most marginal with over 7000  affected people is Rutherglen and Hamilton West held by Gerrard Killen with a majority of 265 over SNP.

DUP seats with the largest numbers of people affected ( 6500 and 6400 respectively)  are Upper Bann held by David Simpson with a 7,992 majority and Antrim North held by Ian Paisley Jnr with a 11,546 majority.

None of the Welsh Parliamentary seats had more than 7000 pensioners.

In addition there are those with lower numbers of people affected but who could influence the result. One is East Worthing and Shoreham which has 6,100 people affected. The MP is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women pensioners group, Tim Loughton. He has a 5106 majority over Labour.

These  results suggest that Waspi  and BackTo60 supporters supporters have more influence than they realise. It is a question of energising it.

Check your own constituency in the table here.  It is an Excel document. Go the page and scroll until the bottom and click on constituency estimates.

 

 

 

 

 

The 3.3 million women “pensioners” who can’t get a penny from Theresa May

Today I am putting up on my website a  documentary film  released today made by the Backto60 campaign who have interviewed women now in their early 60s who suddenly found that they weren’t going to get their pension when they retired at 60. Some of them sadly have committed suicide, some have thought of committing suicide.

They are angry at both the coalition and present Tory government decided to change the pension age without any notice so they can plan. They are the people who have worked all their loves and brought up families, often sacrificing their opportunity to work. Some have even put extra money into their pension, only to find they won’t get it until they are 66.

The government shows no sign of giving in to them – in fact ministers like David Gauke, the  works and pensions secretary, have frozen other benefits instead- and if the Tories had a majority now would be pressing to end winter fuel allowances, free bus passes and the triple lock that guarantees pensions will  rise by 2.5 per cent a year.

There is a  contribution from Ken Loach, the radical film maker and pensioner himself, who made the searing film, I, Daniel Blake, about the trials and tribulations of being on social security after you have lost your job.

The £20,000 benefit bonus rewards for the metropolitan elite at the Department of Work and Pensions

neil couling

Neil Couling – £145,000 a year

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Last week I had a story in the Sunday Mirror about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior  and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years.

The information was published in the annual report and accounts  of the DWP released last month. These same accounts were qualified for the 29th year  running according to the the National Audit Office – because of fraud and error in payouts to claimants rendered them inaccurate and wrong.

 

 

Sir Robert Devereux pic credit Twitter

Sir Robert Devereux – £190,000 a year Pic credit : Twitter

The bonuses announcement came at the same time as 31 Labour MPs had called for a pause in the roll out of the ministry’s new Universal Credit  programme – which replaces five benefits – because of reported chaos in its administration leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. One of those 31 MPs, Kevan Jones, who represents Durham North said the bonuses were a ” reward for failure”.

He described them as “an insult to many of my constituents who are already living on the breadline. In my constituency they plan to introduce this in November which could leave thousands of people without money in the run up to Christmas.”

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Mayank Prakash £220,000 a year including £20,00 bonus Pic credit: DWP Digital

Within days of the publication of the story the FDA ( the First Division Association) which represents the top civil servants attacked the article in a report in Civil Service World.

Jawad Raza, FDA national officer for DWP, said officials should not be used as targets by political opponents of the system simply for doing their jobs.

“The suggestion that these civil servants have been ‘rewarded for failure’ shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay and

Jeremy Moore pic credit

jeremy moore – £135,000 plus £20,000 bonus

wilfully misrepresents the true complexity of their roles,” he said.

“Senior civil servants have delivered billions of pounds worth of savings since 2010 with an ever reducing workforce. These are highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances and they deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names and faces spread across news pages.”

Sorry Jawad I think there is more to this.

The five civil servants are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil

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Andrew Rhodes – £140,000 a year plus £15,000 bonus

Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations have received between £10,000 and £20,000 each .They are nearly all paid more than Theresa May, the PM.

The bonuses were awarded for “ top performance “ and “ leadership “when the rest of Whitehall is limited to one per cent pay rises and many benefits have been frozen.

Sir Robert last year received up to £20,000 extra on a salary of up to £185,000 a year. This year he hasn’t received any bonus but his basic salary has moved to £190,000 a year.

Neil Couling, who is directly responsible for universal credit, got a bonus of up to £20,000 last year on a salary of £125,000 a year. This year instead of a bonus his salary has jumped by £20,000 to £145,000 a year.

Mayank Prakash, director of digital strategy has received a bonus of up to £20,000  this yearon top of salary of £200,000 taking his annual salary to £220,000 .

Jeremy Moore, director of strategy, has received bonuses two years running –  totalling up to £40,000 over the two years – taking his total salary to £155,000 a year.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations has received a £10-15,000 bonus this year, taking his salary to £155,000 a year. He also claimed £37,600 in travel expenses.

The ministry insist that all these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers.

In a statement it said:

Line managers are required to make an evidence-based and objective assessment over whether objectives have been met, not met or exceeded. 

 Individual performance is assessed by the individual’s line manager through an appraisal discussion, with supporting evidence from a range of stakeholders.

But apart from Sir Robert – whose bonus was decided by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary – the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. The bad news for the DWP is that Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month to find out who.

Now the FDA has a point that compared to the top of the  private sector they are badly paid. A report put out by the House of Commons library revealed that the top 3000 bankers are ALL earning over £884,000 a year – which makes £20,000 sound small beer. But if anything that reflects that huge growth of inequality in Britain.

At other end of society how effective are these five top men ( note they are all men) in delivering what they are supposed to do. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

At present they are using Newcastle-upon-Tyne – to roll out the full effect of Universial Credit.

Catherine McKinnell , Labour MP for Newcastle North, said:“ My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion.”

Her debate can be read here.  Suffice to say it reveals a very sorry picture. The  new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has  a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford, even though some have been in receipt of benefits for several years.”

“I also have numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.”

For a time the ministry effectively banned MPs from taking up cases by making impossible verification demands before they would talk about it.

What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor  in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite – whom top Whitehall civil servants are part – and the provincial poor is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.

 

The £5 billion pay out to people who shouldn’t have received it

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Department for Work and Pensions – £3.5 billion of overpayments detected by auditors

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Here is a strange paradox. The government has imposed a tough and to many people unfair benefits and  tax credits regime which has squeezed the poorest – both the unemployed and those in work.

Yet this summer accountants have revealed that HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions has paid out £5 billion to people on benefits and low incomes who should not have received it. And they predict that even more will receive these payments next year. I have written about this in Tribune magazine this week.

The disclosure comes in the annual audit of both departments by Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, who have qualified the accounts of both departments – as not being a true and accurate description of public spending.

According to the NAO report: “HMRC estimates that the overall level of error and fraud that resulted in overpayments in Tax Credits in 2015-16 increased to 5.5% of Tax Credits expenditure (from 4.8% in 2014-15)

“HMRC estimates that the overall level of error and fraud resulting in underpayments in Tax Credits in 2015-16 remained at 0.7% of Tax Credits expenditure (0.7% in 2014-15). This equates to overpayments of £1.57 billion and underpayments of £210 million.

“HMRC has told us that it believes the level of error and fraud in Tax Credits will increase further when measured for 2016-17. Two main factors have been identified that will lead to this increase: the introduction of the ‘Commercial with a view to a profit’ self-employment test for those who are self-employed and the impact of the Concentrix contract. The impact of these factors on error and fraud levels will not be measured until June 2018, and so the estimate of error and fraud in 2015-16 remains the most up-to-date indication available of error and fraud in Tax Credits expenditure for 2016-17.”

Concentrix were sacked by the department after a privatisation programme went wrong – and they were not up to the job.

Worse are the figures for DWP.

The  NAO’s findings are: “Excluding State Pension, overpayments are at the highest levels since 2009-10, while underpayments are at the highest recorded levels.”

Overpayments amount to £3.4bn, excluding the state pension, an increase of £400 million while underpayments are £1.5bn In percentage terms this amount to an increase to 4.1 per cent of all overpayments and 1.9 per cent of all underpayments.

The report says: “Amongst benefits measured annually for fraud and error, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit overpayments are at the highest recorded levels, and Jobseeker’s Allowance overpayments have returned to the highest levels since 2010-11.

The NAO questions some of the techniques used by the DWP to calculate fraud – saying it assumes that when people don’t get back to the department for a re-assessment that they have been fraudulently claiming. This may not be the case. Also, information is out of date.

“The absence of up-to-date information on error rates in large benefit streams creates a risk that the department is not targeting its fraud and error interventions effectively,” the report says. “For example, Disability Living Allowance, which accounted for £11.5 billion of expenditure in 2016-17, has not been measured for fraud and error since 2004-05.”

All this points to some serious mismanagement by the ministries – which have been squeezed by successive coalition and Tory governments. But it doesn’t mean that those at the top have suffered. I shall return to some interesting findings in their annual reports.

Uncork the Gauke: Could the Tories go for another grey man to lead the party – like John Major

david gauke gov uk

David Gauke: potential leader? pic credit; Gov uk

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August is the time of the year when lobby journalists love to speculate on leadership plots. If Jeremy Corbyn had done really badly in the June general election – it would be all about who is going to succeed him. But as it is Theresa May who lost her majority and authority – the speculation is all about who will replace her – even though she is at the moment determined there will be no vacancy. So I thought I would add my pennyworth.

The last Tory PM to be deposed in office was Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and she was at that point even more unpopular than Theresa is now. Her disaster was the poll tax – which was quickly replaced by the present council tax – after she stood down.

People forget that at the time John Major was the least known of the candidates who stood to be leader and PM.

Just as now the leadership favourites were big beasts –  the two top runners were Michael Heseltine – who had resigned over a row over the  fixing of an order for a new generation of helicopters in what became the Westland affair – and Douglas Hurd, a well known big Tory beast and foreign secretary. Both are now peers.

Heseltine was at the time a bit of blonde bombshell – unpredictable and strident. Nicknamed ” Tarzan ” because- though he denies it – he was accused of swinging the Parliamentary mace in protest against Labour. Definitely regarded as leadership material – he had shades of Boris Johnson in his leadership claims for today.

While Hurd was seen as more thoughtful – just like Michael Gove who prides himself as a radical thinker – sees himself today.

But both these big beasts were trounced by the ” grey man ” – the relatively unknown John Major.

Today there is another relatively unknown man – a John Major for the 21st century. He is David Gauke. In the Westminster bubble he is known by the phrase ” Uncork the Gauke ” for  his ability to smoothe over gaffes made by his then boss George Osborne in successive budgets. He is a safe pair of hands to send to Westminster and handle Opposition anger over ministerial mistakes.

He was first out of the traps to address the Westminster  press gallery lunches this month – and came to put himself over as an agreeable lunch companion with a store of self deprecating jokes. He is also benefiting from Theresa May’s decision to promote him to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, presumably thinking like Thatcher about Major that he is no leadership challenger.

But don’t be fooled by his manner. At the heart of the man is a determination to continue the Conservative austerity programme. He was careful only to park plans to end the ” triple lock” on pensions and a new charging system for social care. He has since taken the decision to raise much earlier the pension age to 68 – something that was not in the Tory manifesto.

He also showed little real concern that benefit claimants had committed suicide as a result of  tough decisions. He came out in favour of means testing and to a question from me that his ministry was turning into the Department of Corporate Manslaughter – ignored the point – saying  lamely that there might be mistakes by staff.  There is a lot of difference between a  mistake and a suicide.

A lot is at  stake at the next general election – and Jeremy Corbyn has no longer that element of surprise that he is supposed to be a ” no hoper”  to become PM. So expect the unexpected from the Tories – they will devise new ways to stay in power and an unexpected figure emerging as their leader could be one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Tory plan to axe pensioners fuel benefits is as flawed as Labour’s Ed Balls up

Tory manifesto

Tory Manifesto: An Ed Balls Up on fuel payments for pensioners

 

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This  is the extract from the Tory manifesto relating to plans to axe the £200 a year payment to all pensioners and the £300 a year payment to those over 75 . The plan is stolen from the Labour manifesto of 2015 and was originally proposed by Ed Balls to “save £100m “.

we will target help where it is needed most.So we will look at Winter Fuel Payments, the largest benefit paid to pensioners, in this context. The benefit is paid regardless of need, giving money to wealthier pensioners when working people on lower incomes do not get similar support.

So we will means test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty.

Fine words but very difficult to implement. Why?

Four years ago I investigated how Labour could implement the same policy – and found it unfair and unworkable. This is what I said:

“As a punter and pensioner who pays higher rate tax because my freelance earnings top up my pension I expected to be one of the people targeted by Ed Balls. In fact it will have zilch effect, a load of old Balls if you like.

Let me explain why. The fuel allowance is currently paid to individual pensioners with a cap of £200 per household. So for a start I only receive £100 of  fuel benefit. The other £100 goes to my wife, also a pensioner, who is a standard rate taxpayer. So his planned saving will be halved anyway in my case.

But it is actually worse than that. My wife became a pensioner before me and was entitled to the full household fuel allowance in her own right. So when I was on The Guardian, ( then on just over £80,000 a year) our household was receiving then  a £200 fuel subsidy for a short time. What will happen under the Balls changes is that my wife will get back the full benefit of £200 – so we will still continue to receive exactly the same subsidy.

I suspect I am not alone. I know of many people around me in the shires, where in traditional families of that generation the main earner is the male who will  pay high rates of tax. His spouse who brought up the children, and did part-time work instead, would be a  standard rate taxpayer. These wealthy households will continue to get the subsidy.

Ed Balls

Ed Balls in more serious mode

Now Ed Balls could get round this by imposing a household cap equivalent to the income level set by the higher rate of tax. But if he does this he will run into fresh problems.”

I chased this up with the Inland Revenue.

They confirmed four years ago that they do  not collate figures showing how many households have higher rate and standard rate taxpayers who are currently eligible for winter fuel payments. They do not need to collect the information as taxpayers are assessed individually. So they don’t know the breakdown. The only figures they have are the number of higher rate taxpayers who are pensioners. I doubt anything has changed.

Theresa May

Theresa May:Leader of the Tory party. Pic credit:BBC

So how are the Tories going to do this. They could scrap the present system and go back to the old fashioned 1950s style tax system- where the man had to fill in the form for the household. But that would be deeply regressive, anti feminist and take no account of modern relationships where couples may not even be married or have  a gay partnership.

They could limit payments only to those claiming pensioner credit – removing all other pensioners- but that would hit the JAMS – just about managing pensioners with a huge hole in their income and be deeply unpopular.

Or they could  say every person has to fill in a means test form – which means even if it was done on line – have to employ more staff at a huge cost just when they want to axe more civil servants.

It ain’t going to work and will be deeply unpopular and  be full of anomolies.  In other words Theresa May has just created another Balls-up.