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.
BackTo60s new guerrilla campaign to highlight the plight of the 50s born women who are waiting up to six years to get their pension took on a new dimension yesterday – and brought the displeasure of Parliament’s top official, Black Rod.
Campaigners engaged Pandora’s Box performers to do a flash mob dance performance on College Green opposite the House of Lords. This is part of a guerrilla marketing campaign that has so far seen images backing the campaign projected onto Parliament and the Bank of England at night and the appearance of campaigning graffiti washed into the pavement outside Portcullis House, the Treasury and the Supreme Court.
But little were they to know that College Green – which might seem to me or you a public green place – is in fact part of the private Parliamentary estate.
So no sooner had the music started and the dancing began, Black Rod, who is The Queen’s representative in the House of Lords instructed one of her 30 staff to come down to remonstrate with BackTo60 organiser, Joanne Welch.
A lively discussion followed only mellowed when the member of staff, Fiona Shannon, who had been instructed to ask the dancers to go, realised she was one of the women born in the 1950s who would benefit from a victory by the campaign.
She then went off however to get reinforcements – allowing the dancers to do a quick encore – before the dancers decided to disappear down a Westminster sidestreet.
Joanne Welch said: ” I genuinely thought this was a public place and didn’t think we needed permission to stage the event. It is used regularly by broadcasters and also has been used by Remainers and Brexiteers to stage noisy demonstrations. I apologise if we needed permission.We will know next time.”
A House of Lords spokesperson said that College Green is part of the parliamentary estate. Any requests for filming or other activity are dealt with by Black Rod’s office on behalf of the House of Commons.
The spokesperson added :”Protests and operating amplified noise equipment are not permitted on College Green. The participants were made aware of this and left voluntarily.”
But not without accompanying their mission.
For those curious about Black Rod,the current holder of the office is Sarah Clarke, the first woman appointed to the £93,000 a year post in 650 years.
She organises the State Opening of Parliament and the highest profile part of her role is summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech. She is also responsible for business resilience and planning for the House of Lords, and leads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers.
She was appointed last year having previously organised the Wimbledon tennis championships for a number of years.
As the Queen’s representative she now knows that her 1950s British subjects are pretty angry about the loss of their pensions.. Perhaps Her Majesty should be sent a video of Pandora’s Box great performance compliments of BackTo60,
Secret ministry documents reveal that successive government
ministers and Whitehall officials failed over two decades to tell over 3.8
million women born in the 1950s that they would lose their pensions for up to six
The documents – made public in last month’s judicial review – call into question whether the ministry was up to the job to properly inform millions of people of such a drastic change to their retirement plans.
The Department for Work and Pensions has produced statistics to frighten the public into believing that compensating 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who lost out through the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66 will cost more than double the real price.
A new DWP research report issued a day after judicial review hearing on June 5 and 6 and given widespread coverage in mainstream media put the cost at an eye watering £188 billion and £212 billion instead of a previous figure of £77.2 billion. The directly comparable figure hidden in a footnote is £91.1 billion at today’s prices.
The 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who lost lost billions
of pounds by the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66 had no right to
expect to be told about the changes to their pensions, lawyers for the Department
of Work and Pensions told a judicial review today.
Sir James Eadie,QC, on behalf of Amber Rudd, the current work and pensions secretary, argued that the women had no legal remedy to get their money back because the judges hearing the case could not challenge the primary legislation which authorised the change. He said constitutional grounds prevented the judges challenging any major primary legislation passed by Parliament.
Internal Whitehall documents released yesterday reveal that
the Department of Work and Pensions secretly knew on six separate occasions that there
was “ widespread ignorance “ among 3.8 million women born in the 1950s that
they were about to lose their pensions for up to six years.
The disclosure by Michael Mansfield, QC came on the first day of a landmark judicial review brought by the campaigning group Back to 60 into the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66 which has left this group of women living in poverty after they had relied on the money for their retirement.
It is a supreme irony. Margaret Thatcher’s government ended the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund that has now deprived 3.9 million women born in the 1950s of their pensions for up to six years. Now she could also be their saviour.
This is because Britain’s first woman prime minister took the decision to ratify in 1986 the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination 1979 (CEDAW).
It is this decision that commits the United Kingdom to outlawing not only any discrimination against women who are unfairly treated but demands reparations for the people who lost those rights.
The CEDAW convention also crucially provides a mechanism to deliver the money to 50s women without facing a legal challenge from any other group – whether it be the pensions industry or anyone else.
The role of this convention is likely to be a major debating point in next week’s high court judicial review since Professor Jackie Jones – elected last week as a Labour MEP for Wales and former professor of Feminist Studies at the University of the West of England – will be BackTo60s expert witness. In the hearing that led to the granting of the judicial review she produced a brief here which explains the convention.
What is particularly exciting for 50s women – regardless of the result of the judicial review – is that this mechanism known as a Temporary Special Measure could be implemented by government ministers without any need for a judicial review at all. All it would need is the will of the politicians to do something about it under our obligations to ratify CEDAW.
The effect would be to legal proof any challenge without changing the law that has equalised the state pension age.
There is also an extraordinary precedent which was adopted by the Blair government and extended by the Brown government.
In 2002 Parliament passed the Sexual Discrimination (Election Candidates )Act which set up the controversial all women’s short lists for MPs, MSPs, MEPs, AMs and local councillors. The aim, as a detailed House of Commons library briefing reveals, was to dramatically increase the number of successful women candidates in public life and redress the balance between men and women holding public office.
This particular change was seen as a Temporary Special Measure originally aimed to end in 2015.
The 2010 Equality Act used an order to extend this to 2030. The measure was enthusiastically adopted by Labour who had pioneered the idea for the 1997 general election. Other parties did not adopt all women short lists but came under increasing pressure to select more women candidates.
The result has been a big increase in the number of women in Parliament. Now there are 208 women MPs in Parliament compared to 60 in 1992 before Labour introduced the all women shortlist.
Two issues have not been sorted out. The UK has repeatedly refused to embed all the provisions of CEDAW into domestic law. It steadfastly refuses to incorporate CEDAW into the Equalities Act 2010 or pass a separate Act that would provide women with the rights and fundamental freedoms Mrs Thatcher pledged to adhere to over 30 years ago.
And no special legislation has been passed to allow such payments to be made to the 3.9 million women born in the 1950s.
However this is changing. A Parliamentary motion calling for a temporary special measure to compensate the women has attracted 139 MPs from all parties and widely differing views. These include a number of ex ministers from the two main parties including Tories Sir Michael Penning and Robert Halfon, Labour’s Kevan Jones and Angela Eagle.
Other MPs supporting Anna McMorrin’s motion include the DUP chief whip, Sammy Wilson and Brexit spokesman Nigel Dodds; Green Party MP Caroline Lucas; Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock, David Lammy , Chris Bryant, Emma Lewell-Buck and Gareth Thomas; Tory MPs, Sir Peter Bottomley, Dame Caroline Spelman,Sir David Amess, Sir Henry Bellingham and Laurence Robertson;Liberal Democrat MPs Jo Swinson, Layla Moran, Tim Farron and Stephen Lloyd; Plaid Cymru MPs, Ben Lake and Jonathan Edwards Scottish Nationalists, Angus Brendan MacNeil and Deidre Brock and Independents John Woodcock and Chris Williamson.
What is clear is a gathering support for action among MPs – something the present government and pensions minister Guy Opperman ignore at their peril. The 50s born women have a just cause on their side.