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.
UPDATE: Since this blog was written the dates for the hearing were changed to June 5 and June 6.
The historic hearing into whether 3.9 million 50s born women have been cheated out of their state pension by the government has been set by the High Court for May 24.
The date is later than expected because the Department for Work and Pensions expected to win the hearing for permission to bring the review on November 30 brought by BackTo60 campaigning group and thought they would stop the process in its tracks.
Now the Department has been allowed more time to prepare its case as all of its initial arguments to stop the review were thrown out by the judge.
The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.
This means the government will have to answer whether the decision to raise the state pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 amounted to age and equality discrimination. The key point is that the judge decided that although the legislation dated back to 1995 the present effects of the change is causing hardship to a specific group of women who were not able to fully contribute to the national insurance fund.
The original hearing also led the government to admit that further changes introduced by the coalition government in 2011 had been part of an austerity programme and reveal that the private pensions industry is also against the women winning their case as it could have a knock on effect on private occupational pensions that are tied to the state pension age.
The issue of maladministration will not be the main feature of the case as this is being dealt with by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Cases of discrimination and resulting hardship can still be brought by MPs to the Ombudsman. And recently Ben Lake, the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion filed a case on behalf of a constituent.
Joanne Welch, spokeswoman, said
” BackTo60 .com had a resounding victory on 30th November 2018 and our amazing World Class Legal Team pressed home our advantage for a 2-Day Substantive Hearing. “The substantial significance of our argument has been recognised by the authorities and the case has been elevated to a higher level for determination – this has necessarily involved an alteration of hearing dates. ” There will now be a much more thorough and robust review as the case will take on an historic perspective and achieve national significance: it will be heard, May 2019, at the Divisional Court. Our collective impetus is working so well, thanks to each one of you. Long may it be so.”
To my surprise the number of hits on my blog soared to a new record of 464,000 this year- up by over 350,000 from just under 100,000 last year.
This huge increase was almost entirely to the support given by this blog to the plight of the 50s born women who are facing up to six years delay in getting their pensions.
I was persuaded by Joanne Welch, director of the BackTo 60 campaign – who I knew from previous work she had done in helping the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse – to investigate for the energetic campaign whether the government’s reasons for raising the pension age from 60 to 66 were justified. I found they were not on all counts from money, longevity to equality.
The result was a blog which revealed that a decision taken by the Thatcher government in 1988 – as much as £271billion had been denied to the National Insurance Fund – by the abolition of the annual Treasury grant and later limitation of grant payments by successive governments. This post attracted a phenomenal 188,000 and more hits. It still is attracting new readers today.
Subsequent blogs on the subject attracted 14,500, 19,000, nearly 31,000 and over 33,000 culminating in over 56,000 when – against the odds- the 50s women with the help of Michael Mansfield QC won permission for a judicial review. The blog telling you how you can boot out your MP if he or she won’t support the campaign – attracted nearly 31,000 hits – and led to an amazing 4,600 hits on the House of Commons library reference paper which gave a constituency by constituency breakdown of where the affected women live.
Thanks for the deluge of Christmas greetings from so many 50s women this year supporting the blog and my work.
The other main achievement this year which I can’t blog about – as I was member of the independent panel- was the report on the scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital where at least 456 elderly people had their lives shortened by the over prescribing of drugs. I am very proud of this report and the amazing professional collaboration led by former Bishop James Jones, who chaired the panel inquiry, that produced the findings hidden from people for nearly 20 years.
I also this year worked with the extraordinary Professor Suman Fernando, who at 85, is a tireless campaigner for mental health reform and author of a book outlining the history of racism in psychiatry.
I was a member of a working party which tried – with only partial success – to influence Theresa May’s planned reform of the mental health act. They were particularly exercised by institutional racism in mental hospitals which sees a disproportionate number of Afro-Caribbeans sectioned every year and some appalling examples of deaths in police custody. The mental health service is in a pretty bad state anyway.
I am unhappy about the outcome and will blog about this later.
domestic and sexual abuse
Last December I was invited to attend a national conference hosted by the BBC on domestic abuse and addressed by leading figures in government, the ministry of defence and Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how employers could help people suffering domestic abuse.
This campaign was led by Elizabeth Filkin, another tireless campaigner and a former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I blogged about it last December and was reminded this Christmas again when I willingly agreed as part of a libel settlement with John Hemming to donate £500 to the Victim Support charity and got it earmarked solely for dealing with domestic abuse.
There also was a great story of hope for child sex abuse survivors when a former victim who successfully saw his abuser jailed for 33 years for crimes committed in North Wales decades ago set up a successful volunteer project in Cumbria to tackle the issue of child sex abuse. Seehere
fire engine scandal
This year has seen a very gratifying outcome for those who followed the scandal over the privatisation of London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines which led them to be handed to a bunch of spivs who milked the contract for personal gain.
I have been following the story since 2011 when the Fire Brigades Union raised the issue of Assetco taking over responsibility for maintaining and replacing London’s fire engine fleet.
This year the Financial Reporting Council caught up with former Assetco directors John Shannon, Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle and barred them from practising as accountants for 16. 14 and 12 years respectively. They were branded fraudsters and liars for the way they handled the firm’s accounts and the Serious Fraud Office has been passed their details. The blog got over 4000 hits.
The accountant from Grant Thornton who supervised and passed the fraudulent accounts has also been fined along with his firm.
lack of reporting
The one common theme in all these stories – with the major exception of Gosport – has been the paucity or non existence of coverage in the mainstream media. They have been diverted by wall to wall coverage of Brexit but I think it reflects the fact of an increasing reluctance to put resources into proper investigative journalism. The country will be a far less informed place if this continues and it will give a green light to those who think they can get away with bad practices, incompetence, maladministration and fraud and ruin the lives of ordinary people without any proper scrutiny.