My interview on Salford City Radio with Ian Rothwell on the latest injustices to 50swomen

My Interview with Ian

As it gets nearer to the appeal hearing brought by two members of BackTo60 on July 21 to recover their lost pensions from 60 to 66 I gave another interview tonight to Ian Rothwell, presenter for Salford City Radio, which has been covering the issue of the women’s lost pensions.

I make no apologies for raising again the extraordinary findings that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that 4.6 million men were able to get auto credits from the age of 60 for 35 years from 1983 to 2018.

The disclosure is all the more damaging because a central theme of the DWP at the court hearing was that the raising of the pension age from 60 to now 66 was an issue of equality to end discrimination against men – without disclosing the scale of auto credits given to men to cover their national insurance contributions.

Even now while many women born in the 1950s are suffering severe hardship by waiting for their pension, men have the opportunity, thanks to ex pensions minister, Steve Webb, raising the issue ,to claim back the money they lost if they had paid national insurance contributions while they were over 60 during this period.

The DWP may be able to claim that for some men they already had enough contributions so it was immaterial, or that some died or moved abroad before they could claim their pension, that misses the main point.

The main point is that there was much more of a level playing field between men and women than the DWP acknowledged at the hearing. Men needn’t have paid NI insurance even if they took a low paid job. And if they had an occupational pension and their wife had retired they needn’t have bothered to contribute any further to their state pension or even worked.

Anyway you can hear the interview at the top of the blog.

My piece in Union News: How grass root trade unionists are backing 1950s women to get back their pensions

Earlier Times: Unison delegation with Jackie Jones, BackTo60 campaigner and expert on the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The success of the crowdfunding appeal by BackTo60 campaigning group to run a series of films exposing the plight of 1950s born women yet to get their pension has been partly due to campaigning trade unionists.

As well as getting a large number of small donations from many of the women themselves, two grassroots campaigners from the trade union movement managed to raise an astonishing £3400 towards the campaign.

The full story is in Union – News today.

Mac Hawkins from Unison and Louise Matthews from Unite – both women’s officers at their local branches – and strong supporters of BackTo60.

Mac Hawkins got support from the Wales region of Unison and Louise Matthews got support from Unite’s Equality Team and Unite Companions.

But the key thing is how much money they got from their local branches Mac Hawkins raised some £1400 from her Caerphilly branch while Louise Matthews got support from her Unite branch in Southampton.

Tireless campaigners

Both have been tirelessly campaigning to get money for the films which will form a key part of keeping the issue in the public eye before BackTo60 appeal the judicial review decision on July 21.

The one sad thing in this story is that at national level in both unions there appears to be a cooling off in financing the campaign. Before the general election, Unison and Unite contributed to the campaign, and Unison came alongside BackTo60 to deliver a petition to Downing Street.

This time the national unions are still supportive – but possibly because of the divisions within Waspi on what they want from the government, they may be holding back.

BackTo60 is sticking with full restitution and compensation for all the 3.8 million 50s women – while some other Waspi groups still have to spell out exactly how much compensation they want.

New Film: The triple whammy horror facing 1950s born women

Today Backto60 launched the first of two campaigning films in the run up to their appeal against the judicial review decision in the Court of Appeal on July 21.

They aim to overturn the judicial review which rejected their claim for compensation and full restitution of their pension back to 60 which was rejected on all grounds by judges. They have been given permission by the Court of Appeal to appeal on all grounds.

The film shows how 50swomen – already waiting up to six years for their pensions – are now hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- forced to work in unsafe situations in their 60s in hospitals or care homes or left isolated facing mental health problems.

We now know through a report from the National Audit Office,Parliament’s financial watchdog, that 25,000 people were moved from hospital to care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without any health checks for Covid-19. No wonder so many died and Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School, in the film condemns this as a disgrace.

The film quotes experts who have backed the campaign to point out how just how damaging the situation. You can follow them on Twitter here – @2020Comms @JackieJonesWal1 @ManzurHannah @DrDavinaLloyd1 @doctorshaib @NexusChambers @AnnaCCampaigns @SOS_Initiatives.

The overall picture is bleak – the combination of the pensions delay, austerity and now the virus- have made difficult lives even worse.

But there is also hope. Professor Jackie Jones points out that the UN Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination against Women – may well launch an inquiry into how badly the UK treated 50s women – shaming the country internationally.

The court case is likely to have to hear additional evidence on whether it was a really equal playing field if at the same time 4.6 million men over 60 are estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have had all their national insurance contributions paid by the government so they could get higher pensions. A government promise in the 1990s to extend this scheme to women for eight years after the change was introduced in 2010 was reneged on by the last Labour government and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The film directed by Jasper Warry at Hello Dear Productions is eminently watchable and the experts explain their points succinctly – my only apology is that you have to put up visually with me having a shaggy lockdown non hair cut!

Exclusive: The 4.6 million men who “retired” at 60 to get a pension top up paid by the taxpayer

DWP’s extraordinary disclosure

Successive governments extended a 1983 “men only national insurance subsidy” for 35 years and broke a promise to women born in the 1950s to offer them similar terms

More than 4.65 million men aged over 60 have had the last five years of their national insurance contributions paid by the state, the Department for Work and Pensions has disclosed.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last week when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. She is a BackTo60 supporter and had been pursuing the government over this issue

The scheme was launched by the Thatcher government in 1983 when it was reeling from large scale unemployment even after its popularity had soared through victory in the Falklands War. Extraordinarily the scheme was only wound up in 2018 just two years ago and 35 years after it was launched.

Thatcher ‘s first government: Lord Carrington, foreign secretary, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe. Pic credit : BBC The Thatcher Archive

The scheme- called auto credits – was announced in the 1983 Budget by the late Sir Geoffrey Howe , then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as one of four measures to get down the unemployment count which was over three million.

In his March Budget he announced:

“Some 90,000 men between the ages of 60 and 65 now have to register at an unemployment benefit office if they wish to secure contribution credits to protect their pension rights when they reach 65. From April, they will no longer have to do this.

Even if those concerned subsequently take up part-time or low-paid work on earnings which fall below the lower earnings limit for contributions, their pension entitlement will be fully safeguarded. ( my emphasis)”

Unemployment did fall and was half that level by 2018 when the scheme was dropped.

Yet neither successive chancellors Nigel Lawson, John Major , Norman Lamont,Kenneth Clarke , Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling did anything to repeal it.

In fact under Kenneth Clarke in 1993 the opposite happened. He decided as 50s born women were going to face waiting longer for their pensions, they should get some help. This was adopted by Labour in a leaflet issued in 2002 on pensions which announced it would be extended to 50s women from 2010 when the pension age for women started to rise.

But the Brown government then reneged on this in 2009 after the financial crisis.

Promises to 50s women reneged

An explanatory memorandum to changes in pension legislation said :

“When the Government published its plans for state pension age equalisation in 1993, the intention then was that as women’s pension age increased gradually to 65, autocredits would become available to them on the same basis as for men. This was in part to compensate for the increase in the number of years women would otherwise have to pay National Insurance contributions for in order to qualify for a full basic pension.

” This approach has since been reviewed, for two reasons. Firstly, the qualifying age for Pension Credit (the income-related benefit currently payable to men and women at 60 without jobseeking conditions attached) is set to increase to 65 by 2020 in line with female state pension age. Without the proposed change, autocredits would increasingly apply mainly to people who could afford not to work or claim benefit….

“Secondly, the reduction in the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic pension to 30 and the improvements in the crediting arrangements for carers under the measures introduced by the Pensions Act 2007 will mean that the need for autocredits to protect state pension entitlement will be significantly reduced….

” This instrument amends the Credits Regulations to provide that autocredits will be available to men only for the tax years in which they have reached what would be pension age for a woman of the same age, up to and including the last tax year before the one in which they reach age 65. Men born on 6 October 1954 or later,…, will not qualify for the credits.”

This meant it was phased out in 2018.

Meanwhile the new Tory and Liberal coalition elected in 2010 decided to raise the pension age further to 66 and also planned a new pension raising the qualification period to 35 years. The main architect was the pensions minister , Steve Webb, who moved a top job at Royal London Insurance. In an article in the Telegraph in September 2017 he backed men who could have overpaid NI contributions to claim the money back. He is now a financial consultant with Lane Clark and Peacock.

Yet another scandal

Now this entire scandal is yet another example of unfair treatment to 50s women.

The woman who raised this with the DWP is one of a number who has not got enough national insurance contributions to get a full pension. She falls short by three years and will have to pay them £3000 to make up the years to get another £400 a year.

A man – one of the 4.65 million who was covered by auto credits- would have to pay nothing. That is hardly fair. And he could take a low paid job and still not pay NI contributions as they would be covered by the state.

More seriously it does knock a hole in the DWP case that the raising of the pension age was an equality measure to create a level playing field with men.

It is hardly a level playing field if men on this huge scale are getting their national insurance contributions for free. What started as a measure for 90,000 ended up helping 4.6 million. No wonder the DWP were not happy to have to disclose this.

Roll on the appeal to the judicial review brought by BackTo60. Michael Mansfield could have a field day with these new facts.

The damning FOI reply from the DWP that revealed the 4.6 million figure

Covid-19: NHS chaos and DWP indifference lead to tragedy for one 50s born woman

And why the BackTo60 Facebook crowdfunder is essential to bring these sad facts for many more to light

The family of Ray and Lesley Myers with daughters Nicola and Jenny in happier times.

This is a tragic tale that I suspect is being repeated across the UK now we have the largest number of deaths in Europe. It gives a little glimpse into the human cost behind the cold harsh statistics of the daily death toll. Her daughter contacted me and she agreed to be interviewed.

Ray and Lesley Myers thought they had their retirement well planned. He would get his pension at 65 and one year later she would get hers at 60.

He was a successful Welsh speaking self employed builder in North Wales. They had a comfortable four bedroomed house and two lovely daughters.

Then at 60 Ray developed cancer and was unable to work. They downsized from their four bed house to a one bed apartment in Chester.

Through the help of the NHS Countess of Chester Hospital & The Hospice of the Good Shepherd he was tackling his cancer and they were still looking forward to many more years together.

This winter Ray got pneumonia and went into the Countess of Chester Hospital. He got better , came out of hospital, but then fell ill again and was re-admitted.

Unfortunately for him he came back just as the Covid-19 was starting to spread across the UK. The doctors there also tried to press him to sign a ” do not resuscitate” form.

According to Lesley Myers the hospital did not have the right equipment to safeguard the staff or patients relying on paper masks and aprons. But they did regularly test him for Covid- 19. Three tests were negative, the last one was positive.

From there he deteriorated rapidly but his family heard nothing from the hospital and couldn’t visit him. Finally they allowed Lesley to visit him and provided her for the first time a gown and a medical mask. By then he was in a coma and close to death.

On April 7 aged 70 he died. The family have not been able to organise a proper funeral.

But the hospital have followed up her case and have got proper protection equipment and are changing the way they handle future cases.

Lesley then encountered all the problems from the Department for Work and Pensions. She was hours on the phone trying to claim bereavement benefit. The DWP just cut her off.

But they acted very quickly to stop his state pension,PIP, and ban her from being able to drive his mobility car. They still haven’t bothered to collect it one month later and it is parked at the apartment.

She found herself left with living on £420 a month – £320 from her own PIP as she is disabled and just £25 a week bereavement benefit. The widow’s pension has been abolished by the DWP. She has bills of £150 a month for council tax and another £100 for the apartment management charge.

She said :” How I am supposed to survive on this on this amount?
” I do have savings but do not know how long I will live for so do not wish to rely solely on this as I’m sure you can appreciate – I am only 64! “

“I am fortunate to have the support of my daughter and some savings but I ask you this for someone with nothing and all payments stopped immediately how would they now continue?
“I am very concerned for other people left in the same situation or worse off than myself.
” I do not like to complain, I have expressed my sincere gratitude to the hospital for their care and my daughters have raised nearly £3000 for them and the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in memory of my husband and in order to help them both at a difficult time.
I feel like a statistic, and this is not right. I am a person who also needs to survive”.

She said her situation would have far better if she had already got her pension as of right.

” I have supported BackTo60 for a long time and I feel it is disgusting that they changed the pension age without properly informing people. I have paid in since I was 15. We are entitled to that money and there should be full restitution.”

BackTo60 have just launched a £10,000 crowdfunder so they can keep the issue in the public eye right up until the judicial review appeal in July.

They intend to use the money for a film that will highlight how Covid-19 has made life worse for many 50s women already suffering in poverty and having difficulty making ends meet.

You can donate to the crowdfunder here. It is something that needs exposing.

Coronavirus: Why more than ever BackTo60 were right to challenge that judicial review decision over #50sWomen pensions

My radio interview which is now on the BackTo60 site

One of the most disturbing things coming back to the UK after nearly three months is how the country is now gripped in an inevitable lock down without any sign of an exit – as this nasty virus – Covid-19 – takes a grip on the nation.

For women and men in their 60s the situation is particularly dire. They should be protected but are not. Instead they have the problems of either being pushed out of work and put at the mercy of the hopeless and half finished Universal Credit system or the government’s long delayed payments for the self employed for any money.

They know they are a high risk group recognised by the World Health Organisation ( WHO) but they are caught between surviving on savings or going out to work – including for the NHS and in care homes – knowing they stand a greater chance of getting the virus. The two scenarios I illustrated in my article for Byline Times.

But probably the most pleasing thing that happened while I was away was the decision of the Court of Appeal to grant an appeal from the two 50swomen on behalf of BackTo60 on all grounds after the disappointing judicial review decision. which rejected their case.

The women I know have a long wait until July for the hearing but if they hadn’t taken this step they would be nowhere under this present Tory government.

The applicants at the time would not have known how damaging the coronavirus would be but fortunately they got their right to appeal before the courts closed down to hear most new cases. The latest situation at the Court of Appeal can be seen in their latest briefing( April 17).

The fact that BackTo60 has got an appeal on all grounds is significant given the judicial review rejected their case on all grounds and the judge who decided this also wanted to stop an appeal.

Lawyers for the claimants were confident that they could win permission to appeal – and they were right.

At the time detractors – many of whom should have known better – were making wild claims about the crowd funding appeal – which was set at a specific figure on the advice of the lawyers- and trying to stir up animosity against BackTo60. They did not succeed and the result is the issue remains very much alive.

The other key result is that for the government the issue will have to be faced again – ministers have not succeeded in squashing the campaign in the courts. The government knows it will have to argue its case again and 3.8 million women will have a voice at the Royal Courts of Justice to say why they were mistreated and swindled out of their pensions.

I have given a radio interview which is also on BackTo60 and you can listen to it at the top of this blog.

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

Election 2019: What is the best offer for 3.8 million pensionless 50s born Women voting on Thursday ?

BackTo60 outside the Royal Courts o Justice demanding compensation

Thursday’s election offers a defining moment for some 3.8 million women who have had to wait for up to six years for their pension.

None of the parties are offering full restitution for the women – which could still be won in the courts if the Court of Appeal gives permission to appeal the High Court’s dismissal of the judicial review bought by the BackTo60 campaign.

There is however a very big difference in what is (or not) on offer because we have an unexpected general election this week.

The most comprehensive and only detailed offer comes from the Labour Party.

The offer is not full restitution but for those born between April 1950 and April 1956 it promises substantial compensation. It is less generous after this tailing off altogether by April 1960.

The offer starts at £400 for those who lost the least and rises to £31,379 for those born around April 1955. It is a universal payment but is taxable.

John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, has promised both further negotiation with all the groups involved and early implementation. He has set February 5 next year – the date of both Labour’s or the Conservative’s Budget – for the full announcement. He also announced recently that repayments could either be at the rate of £100 a week over five years or an annual lump sum.

At the moment this is the only firm offer in town and he has been roundly criticised by the other two main parties for the cost of ther compensation which amounts to £58 billion over five years. Some Labour candidates want to go further and pay full compensation – notably candidates standing in Hemel Hempstead and Ian Duncan Smith’s seat in Chingford.

The Conservatives are offering nothing after Boris Johnson at first suggested he would look at it and then said it was too complicated to compensate people and he did not have the money to do so. All Conservative candidates have been told by the party not to pledge any money to help them.

The Liberal Democrats have also been critical with Jo Swinson, their leader at one stage denouncing Labour’s offer as offering ” something for nothing ” to 3.8 million 50s born women.

They do back a reference to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who is going to look at six test cases to see if compensation is justified. This will take time though and will certainly not be delivered in time scale envisaged by Labour. Any offer depends on whether the Parliamentary Ombudsman does think there has been maladministration.

The Welsh Nationalists-Plaid Cymru – say there is a moral case to back the women.

Adam Price, their leader said:There is a moral debt that is owed to these women … scrap Trident – that will save you £205bn … HS2 – there is a £100bn there – I’ve saved you £300bn – there’s money to spare for the WASPI women.

Intriguingly the possibility of abolishing Trident would come if a minority Labour government joined forces with the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists – who both have a commitment to abolish Trident while Labour at the moment do not.

The Scottish Nationalist Party have always had warm words for the 50s born women and do want them properly compensated. But they have failed, unlike Labour, to say exactly what they would do.

UKIP have not mentioned the plight of the 50s women at all.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party have a strong commitment towards 50s born women – they are the only party to support a special temporary measure offering full compensation. But they only have a tiny representation in Parliament – and have fallen out big time with the Conservatives over Johnson’s Brexit deal. Should Labour form a minority government, they could like the Nationalists, put pressure on Labour to improve their offer.

The Green Party have avoided a direct commitment to compensation but instead offered a basic pension of £178 a week and a supplement for lone pensioners.

It is your choice who you vote for – but if getting compensation is your main priority this election you should look very carefully at what is on offer and weigh up which party could deliver. It is a once in a lifetime chance to influence events.

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.

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..