This is just a note to my readers that after an absence of nearly three months I am now back in rather a different England that I left in January.
I have been extremely lucky as the trip I took with my disabled wife sailing round the whole of South America was about the safest place to be at the time – as the ship kept ahead of the spread of COFID 19 until the every end.
Then a very wise captain decided not admit any new passengers or crew when we docked at Fort Lauderdale and only allow passengers to disembark – not even go ashore and return – protecting the ship from the virus.
We then sailed straight for Southampton and were able to dock without facing the terrible fate some cruise liners had to endure where passengers had caught the disease. Cunard deserve a lot of praise for this. I will put up a blog with lots of pictures of what we saw in South America at a later date – as an antidote to today’s gloomy situation.
But now having had to painfully adapt to the new situation and look after and protect my wife from this invisible scourge I am back to investigating from home again.
I have a lot to catch up. I am planning fresh articles on developments on the BackTo60 campaign and the continuing plight of #50sWomen now hit by the fall out from the coronavirus. While I was away their victory at the Court of Appeal to challenge the findings of the judicial review on all grounds was an amazing achievement.
I am also back working for Byline Times which is doing a series of investigations in to the NHS and the coronavirus and I will keep an eye out for any other issues in Whitehall that are being buried by the current crisis.
I also have a number of more long term and complicated investigations – nearly all raised by people who contacted me directly and are taking many months to sort out. You will know who you are but I ask you for some patience as it will take time to get round to them.
In the meantime it will soon be back to business as usual.
Last year was an extraordinary year for this blog and my readers deserve a big thank you for following me. The number of hits is at record levels topping over a million for the first time.
This is more than double the previous year and the main driver has been the campaign by BackTo60 along with other groups to get back lost pensions for 3.8 million people born in the 1950s. The interest in this issue has been phenomenal. In 2017 I had less than 100,000 hits. In 2018 it was 464,000 and this year’s figure shows it has grown ten fold since 2017 – at over a million.
Reporting the campaign for 50swomen has been a big insight into how difficult it is for such a large group of people to get justice or even get noticed by the mainstream media.
That there was injustice over the five and then six year delay in paying out pensions to the 50swomen is unquestionable. That the Department of Work and Pensions took every step possible to deny the women the money – even down to arguing in court that the ministry has no duty to tell anyone about their pension was unbelievable.
The campaign by BackTo60 has had its highs and lows. The fact the claimants initially won the case for a judicial review at all – when detractors said it would never be granted- was a key victory. But to be followed by a comprehensive defeat at the High Court was a big low.
Ironically the defeat finally brought the issue to front page mainstream media and TV and secured sympathetic coverage.
Then there was the general election campaign. Labour became the first party to publish a compensation package with support from two of the biggest trade unions, Unison and Unite, was a major acheivement.
It was only half way to full restitution – but it opened a debate on how it should be paid and that compensation should be paid to the women.
But Labour was defeated in last month’s election- and the very offer to the women was derided by opponents as an example of the party making too many generous promises with public money.
So where does it go now? There are three routes to justice. First there is the approach to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the judgement. Lawyers for BackTo60 would not have recommended this action and the raising of money to do it unless they could see there was a good case.
Then there is the approach by Waspi and others to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – putting forward six test cases – this will take some time before he issues a judgement.
There is also the case for a special temporary measure being passed by Parliament to pay out the money on the grounds of inequality – this could lead to full restitution without going to the courts. But the composition of the new Parliament will make it difficult to get it passed.
That all this is problematic does not mean people should give up – and I for one will still continue reporting this campaign – because the sense of injustice has not changed one iota and the women deserve to be compensated.
People will notice this year that many of the blogs are appearing in full on Byline Times – a growing independent print and on-line media group dedicated to holding power to account. I have a retainer with them to analyse and investigate issues arising in Whitehall and Westminster especially as now Britain will be in a post Brexit world.
Given the government now has a solid majority this is needed more than ever and I intend to pursue this vigorously.
Child sex abuse
I have not done so much this year on this topic but it does not mean I have lost interest in it. Many of the cases involve people who have never had justice so I will return to it.
I did put forward my opinions following the conviction of the paedophile Carl Beech for perverting the course of justice.
Travel and reviews
This blog will occasionally do a review of a film and a book. This year I reviewed Andrew Lownie’s biography of the Mountbattens and a film on the Durham Miner’s Gala.
I also travelled this year taking my disabled wife, Maragaret on an eye -opening world cruise – blogging from Bermuda, Samoa, Waitangi in News Zealand, Darwen in Australia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Singapore.
I am taking another break later this month when I am taking my disabled wife on a cruise round South America, going up the Amazon and across the Beagle Channel and visiting Rio, Buenos Aires, Chile and Panama among other places. So expect some more blogs from unusual places.
I shall be back by April ready to resume full domestic coverage of everything from the continuing battle for justice for the 50swomen and the latest political developments. Have a great New Year everybody.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s State Pension Inequalities is to be revived and will try and persuade the Tory government to make a offer to the 50swomen.
Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham, used his response to the Queen’s Speech, to say both he and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea, East will approach ministers again to try and get some money. Mr Loughton was returned with an increased majority while Carolyn Harris saw her majority severely reduced.
If the deal is anything like the last one it is likely to cost some £2 billion and probably only cover a small portion of the women who may get £73 a week. Before the election Mr Loughton said as a condition BackTo60 would have to drop its legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the Daily Express.
He used his latest speech to attack Labour for offering to spend £58 billion over five years to remedy the situation describing it as having ” disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women. “
This is the full extract of his speech on the issue:
“It is an issue that featured rather disgracefully during the election campaign, and it is that of the so-called WASPI women.
Many on this side and, of course, on the other side have championed the case of the 1950s pension women who were hit disproportionately by those changes in the pension age under previous Governments. Many of us have been lobbying the Government to acknowledge that disproportionate disadvantage and to do something about it.
I will call on the Government again and, working with my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, we will continue to put pressure on the Government to acknowledge that and do something about it.
The Labour Opposition’s uncosted promise of £58 billion, which did not appear in their manifesto, disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women.
That amount was almost half the NHS budget, and it was never going to happen. I do hope that we can come up with a realistic, deliverable, doable offer for those women who have suffered and are suffering disproportionately, because that is the right thing to do. “
His speech cut no ice with BackTo60. They are to continue pressing ahead with their application for an appeal in the New Year to get full restitution for the women with the support of the trade unions.
Unison, the largest public service union, are donating £700 to the cause on top of the £80,000 already raised.
Meanwhile I expect some more lobbying from Connect Public Affairs and Waspi to press for a reduced deal. Below is an example sent to me of an earlier lobbying campaign captured in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.
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 Timeshere.
My first article for Scarlet Standard – a new on line magazine for the Labour movement – highlights the plight of 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are now waiting up to six years to get their pension.
Read it in full here. The gist is the present Tory government don’t plan to do anything about it – but the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have got to up their game to get their vote. And there is everything to play for. And the women have the power to decide who could be elected.
Today I have decided to highlight one of my angry blog supporters who lives in Spain and is a victim of the pension scandal that has seen 3.8 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pension.
So outraged at the Prime Minister refusing to consider any compensation for the women that she has written to complain to Boris Johnson and highlight how much money he and his ministers have wasted after researching the bills.
As she puts it: ” Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet you are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night!
Carole Irwin lives in the mountains behind Malaga. She tells me :
” I am 60 years old and during my working life paid NI payments whilst working as a nurse for several years, and as a civilian in the Police Service. I then brought up my children, so received child benefit credits for those years.
I moved to Spain to retire with my family 14 years ago. 6 years ago l was diagnosed with an incurable and life changing illness. This costs me between 80€ and 90€ in medications per month alone.
This is why I became a member of #WePaidInYouPayOut which has been supporting Back to 60.
….I am one of the many who has received no letter informing me of this change. When I started working it was on the understanding although only an assumed agreement that I would receive my pension at 60.This change of retirement age along with my illness has affected our plans for our future life in Spain. “
This is her full letter to Mr Johnson:
” I am writing to you as l have many concerns about the enormous amounts of money being wasted by Government’s various departments. In order to be concise l am writing it in bullet points so as not to waste your time.
Firstly Chris Grayling ( who possibly has wasted the most money) who has served in several roles during his time in government and unbelievably still is employed as Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom (2016 to 2019). Had he been employed in the private sector would have been dismissed as his record shows how incapable he actually is! *Chris Grayling alone has so far wasted almost 3 billion pounds of public money…
*At least £500 million to sort out the mess he made when attempting to privatise the probation service (source: National Audit Office)
*£33 million when sued by Eurotunnel over Seaborne Freight fiasco (source: The Guardian)
*£38 million – cost to the economy in the north of England due to the rail chaos in July 2018 (source The London Economic)
*£50,000 on the failed ‘lorry jam’ Brexit exercise in Kent (source: The Guardian)
*£70,000 on failed attempt to ban books from prisons (source: The Independent)
*£2 billion cost to taxpayers on the collapse of Virgin Trains east coast franchise (source The London Economic)
*£15 million a year in additional costs to the Carillion contract to run facilities management in prisons (source The London Economic)
*£5 million on ‘wasted rail fares’ for HS2 staff (source: Huffington Post)
*£50 million on cancelled No Deal ferry contracts (source: The Guardian)
*£32 million of charges that were unlawfully collected – which the government were ordered to pay back (source The London Economic)
*£23 million contract to develop a new generation of GPS tracking tags for dangerous offenders written off because the project proved “too challenging” (source The London Economic)
*£60 million over the £130 million original budget on the electronic tagging programme – described by the PAC as a “catastrophic waste of public money” (source The London Economic)
More government waste is shown by the Tax payers alliance.
Although excellent work has been undertaken by the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group in terms of finding savings, taxpayers’ cash has still been wasted in a number of ways, with significant sums ripe for being saved in many areas, including:
*£53 billion – Additional cost of funding pay and pensions for public sector workers over and above the private sector average, based on analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Pension Policy Institute *£25 billion – Amount wasted through inefficient public sector procurement and poor use of outsourcing, based on an authoritative report from the Institute of Directors *£20.3 billion – Cost to the economy of public sector fraud, according to the National Fraud Authority *£5 billion – Amount paid in benefits to those with an income in excess of £100,000 *£4 billion – Losses to the taxpayer from RBS and the sale of Northern Rock£2.9 billion – Amount spent needlessly by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Culture, Media & Sport, which should both be scrapped *£1.2 billion – Annual subsidy to foreign farmers through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy The planning of the London garden bridge cost £58 million without so much as a pot plant being placed! These figures are also almost certainly an underestimate. A rigorous assessment of the public sector efficiency commissioned by the European Central Bank found that if the UK’s bloated public sector were as efficient as that in the economies of countries like the US, Australia, and Japan, no less than £137 billion could have been saved in the last year! Those is a Huge amount of money!
In addition to the big ticket items, we have identified hundreds of examples of smaller sums being wasted. It is, however, all still taxpayers’ money and there is no excuse for waste, regardless of the amount involved. Among the culprits identified are:
Arts Council: Gave a £95,000 grant to artists in Brighton for “Skip”, a rubbish dumpster outlined with yellow lights!
Crawley Council: Spent £5,070 on 12,200 hot drinks from vending machines for council employees, when the equivalent number of tea bags would have cost just £200!
Department for International Development: Spent £21.2 million on a road maintenance project in Bangladesh, later pulled due to “fiduciary irregularities” after it emerged that less than 10% had actually been spent on roads!
Durham Council: Funded a £12,000 clothing allowance to allow councillors to wear “Geordie Armani”!
Hull Council: Spent £40,000 on a concert in honour of the councillor who is Lord Mayor this year!
Ministry of Defence: Paid £22 for light bulbs that are normally 65p!
Prison Service: Paid £720,000 to professional actors for role playing that is aimed at helping inmates become employed.
Scottish Government: Signed a £1.4 million 4-year contract for taxis for civil servants in Edinburgh – despite staff being told to use buses.
Stoke-on-Trent Council: Spent £330,000 to pay for redundancy packages and subsequently rehiring 25 members of staff.
All this money wasted by your government was paid for by the hard working tax payers and I’m sure if l did more research l could find many more examples. One being to your own embarrassment the purchasing of water cannons. I wonder what they were worth at the local scrap dealer?
There are a great many extremely angry women not yet receiving their hard earned Pensions which was paid for by themselves throughout their lives by paying national insurance. I’m sure they would not have chosen to waste so much money in the way you did, as had that money still been available you could have decided we earned and deserved our pensions. Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet to are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night! Due to the appalling waste as listed above, please do it get too comfortable in your role as Prime Minister as l have a strong feeling come the next general election you will have many people choosing not to vote for your incompetent and cruel party.”
On Byline next month I am planning to try and see how much money the PM has also wasted on the No Deal Brexit which increasingly looks unlikely to happen on October 31. This can be added to the figures she has researched.
But I thought it was worth publishing this gigantic list because it highlights the anger people feel about this issue and the waste of taxpayers money by politicians. No doubt the reply will be stuck in a queue in the PM’s correspondence unit. But wider publication will not allow him so easily to get away with it. Nor should he.
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.