The Downing Street state pension robbery

Downing Street thieves

I wonder if Mr Plod has a good sense of humour. It is a good photoshop. Pic Credit: Paul Downes @CallmeDownsie

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The mantra  that we cannot afford to pay the 3.9 million  50s women   their pensions until they are 65 and soon 66 is based on the premise that there is no money in the National Insurance Fund. The big question is why?

I have already in a previous report for #Backto60  shown that the accounts of the National Insurance Fund are in fact in surplus. But detractors point out that they soon won’t be if the government hands back £77 billion owed to the women.

But what if we have reached  this situation because the government has raided a fund  which is 91 per cent spent on pensions for other benefits. And what if the Treasury deliberately decided to  undermine the fund by avoiding paying any money into it?

This is what I have found out by investigating the history of this fund.

The original fund was set up in 1911 by Lloyd George and did not cover pensions – but helped pay  medical bills for wage earners and provided  unemployment benefit for  some workers. Employers and employees had to make compulsory contributions.

Pensions were introduced for those over 70  in 1908 and were means tested and supervised by local councillors. People could be disqualified from getting a pension if they had been imprisoned for ten years, weren’t of good character and were drunkards. The money came from general taxation. There is a House of Commons library report about the act here.

The real major changes came under the Attlee government which set up the welfare state. The National Insurance Act, 1946 introduced compulsory NI for all working people except married women. It set the pension age at 60 for women and 65 for men. Pensions, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and a maternity allowance and death grant were paid out of it. There is a useful summary in the National Archives here. But it was run as a ” pay as you go ” scheme with money topped by the Treasury.

It is the attack on these provisions which began under the Thatcher government in the 1980s that has led to the 50s women losing out.

An excellent report by the House of Commons library describes what happened. It is worth quoting parts in full.

“In each year from 1948 to 1989, the National Insurance Fund received a grant from the
Treasury, known as the Treasury (or Consolidated Fund) Supplement. The origins of the
Supplement lay in the Beveridge Report, which envisaged a tripartite scheme of contributions to the Fund, whereby the Treasury would pay one third of the cost of unemployment benefits and one sixth of the cost of pensions and other benefits. In practice, the level of the Supplement tended to be around 18% of contribution income, a level at which it was fixed by the Social Security Act 1973.

“From 1980, the value of the Supplement began to decline, reflecting partly the growing level of contribution income and partly the constraining of spending on benefits by the abolition of earnings linking of the pension and other long-term benefits and earnings-related supplements to unemployment benefit. By 1988 the Fund’s contribution income exceeded its benefit expenditure, leading to a steady growth in the balance of the Fund (from £5.3bn in April 1986 to £10.4bn in April 1989 ).

In this context, the then Secretary of State for Social Security, John Moore, stated in 1989 that:

“The tripartite principle is already effectively a dead letter. The rationale behind it has
gone, and the Supplement has been shrinking steadily as a proportion of the Fund’s
income from about one-third in 1948. It now stands at only 5%. We consider that there
is now no need for it all. The £26bn of expenditure from the Fund is fully covered by
contributory income and the abolition of the Supplement will have absolutely no effect
on that expenditure”
“The Supplement was abolished by the Social Security Act 1989.”

It was a disaster – the fund which then  had  big surplus – went heading into the red – as it was now being raided for the full cost of unemployment and sickness benefit at a time of high unemployment.

So in 1993 the Major government had to partly retract by reintroducing a Treasury supplement because money in the fund had fallen by a staggering 50 per cent  due  to benefit pay outs as well as pensions. Pensioners were robbed.

But  the government fixed the rules so it was much less generous than the  system they bequeathed from Attlee. As the report says :

“There are a number of differences between the Treasury Grant and the Treasury
Supplement. First, the levels of Treasury Grant are set by reference to benefit expenditure rather than to contribution income. Second, and more significantly, whereas the Treasury Supplement was paid annually, irrespective of whether it was actually needed to finance a particular year’s expenditure, the Treasury Grant is paid at the discretion of the Secretary of State.

“The amount of Grant paid to the Fund was limited to a maximum of 20% of forecast
benefit expenditure in 1993-94, and to a maximum of 17% of forecast benefit expenditure in subsequent years.”

The truth of the matter is that the rules were skewed so the Treasury never had to pay out any money.  From 1989 to 2014 if the Treasury had returned to its original support  under  the Major, Blair and Brown governments, the Tory Liberal coalition and Cameron’s government, billions of pounds would be available now to help pay the 50s women. Instead as we know successive governments ruthlessly decided to solve the problem by raising the pension age.

In top of this the government also amended the benefits that would be paid out from the fund – including some new benefits like paternity benefit for example.

Anyone who believes the changes that happened – both the removal of Treasury contribution to the fund and the subsequent rise in the pension age – was a happy coincidence is deluding themselves. You can see here  in an article in the Daily Express what  George Osborne, the former chancellor, told investors at the Global Investment conference in 2013. Scroll down to the video

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George Osborne speaking at the 2013 Global Investment Conference

He said: “Tackling entitlement costs and the cost of an ageing society is a real challenge for Western democratic societies and in the UK we’ve brought forward the increase in pension age to 66 in this decade; we’ve brought forward the increase to 67 in the next decade and actually because of some reform taken some years ago the female pension age is increasing to 65 as we speak.”

“These changes, when you’re a finance minister, the savings dwarf almost everything else you do.

“They are absolutely enormous savings and they enable you to go on providing a decent retirement income. So you’re not necessarily reducing the entitlement of people who are retired you’re just increasing the age when that entitlement kicks in. ”

“Of course when these were first put into practice these pensions systems life expectations was dramatically less.

“I’ve found it one of the less controversial things we’ve done and probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done.”

Need I say more. The UK has one of the lowest and least generous state pension in the developed world and it has been bought about by making huge savings against 50s women.

 

Taking the 50s women protest to the doors of the Department of Work and Pensions

 

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The protesters outside the DWP under the #One Voice umbrella

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The campaign for justice for the 50s women denied their pensions has come home to the Department of Work and Pensions.

A group representing all shades of opinion demanding redress for the 3.7 million women who have lost out hired an old London bus to protest outside Parliament, Downing Street and Caxton House, the DWP headquarters to drive the message home.

Under the banner #One Voice it included a number of #Waspi groups from London, Chichester, Bognor Regis to name but a few. On board backing the campaign was the Barnet blogger, Theresa Musgrove, who runs the @brokenbarnet  website.

 

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Waspi supporters from London with a banner – the guy in the background is the DWP’s privatised security guard from G4S who was pretty accommodating given it was a surprise visit

The campaign was supported by lawyer Michael Mansfield who wants to bring a legal case against the DWP  presently represented by Guy Opperham, the pensions minister and MP for Hexham,. who is implacably opposed to giving any concessions to anybody.

He appealed for unity among the campaigners – warning that divide and rule between various factions – would mean they could be picked off by ministers.

The 50s women used a battlebus obtained by Angela Taylor to make as much noise as possible particularly in its thrice trip round Parliament Square, causing both tourists and MPs to turn their heads. No doubt the message would have got back to Japan given the number of pictures taken.

The choice of the bus added to the occasion. It was a London RT model – the workhorse of  London Transport for decades – and built pretty much at the same time as many of the 50s women were born.  Reliable, dependable and capable – it was very much symbolic of the women who have been robbed of their pensions.

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The pensions battle bus with Yvette Greenway  who works in association with #BackTo60 with her trusty loudhailer

Of course the government is still saying it will do nothing. A letter sent to Pauline Hinder by the DWP ministerial correspondence unit ( ministers  like Guy Opperham have better things to do than reply to the general public like watching the Eurovision song contest) says :

” The Government has no plans to revisit the policy on women’s State Pension age and does not intend to make further concessions….

And according to the ministers they are striking a blow for equality.

“Changes to the State Pension age put right a long lasting inequality which was based on an outdated rationale that women were dependent on their husband’s incomes.”

Bizarrely this is exactly what many of the 50s women  were dependent on – the minister is just rewriting history to suit himself.

And mindful that the ministry may soon to be taken to court for not telling people about the change they are on the defensive..

“In the years after the 1995 legislation (1995 to 2011) this equalisation was frequently reported in the media and debated at length in Parliament. People were notified with leaflets, an extensive advertising campaign was carried out, and later individual letters were posted out. Throughout this period the Department has been providing individuals with their most up-to-date State Pension age when they have requested a Pension statement.”

And also you aren’t entitled to a pension  and we can’t afford to pay it anyway. We just take your contributions and do what we like with it.

“The National Insurance scheme operates on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. It is inaccurate to characterise the State Pension as an individual contract where people get out what they pay in. It is today’s contributors who pay for today’s pensioners.

“There is no surplus in the Fund that can simply be drawn upon. The Government Actuary recommends a surplus is kept in the National Insurance fund to cover day to day variations in spend. The surplus is lent to the Government while that happens – it cannot simply be spent again.”

I have a feeling that ministers may not get away with this if people continue to press them – the Conservative government can’t afford to lose 3.7 million votes when it is neck and neck with Labour.

 

New Video:The time for 50s women pensioners to take action is now

With less than a month to go before the local elections if the 3.9 million 50s women pensioners want to influence events the time to do so is now. These are the people who have been deprived of a pension for up to 6 years by successive governments putting up the pension age and were not given proper notice of the change unless they happened to be a nerdy Parliamentary watcher.

This website is supporting the #BackTo60 campaign because it believes this is one of the largest injustices to a group of women perpetrated by any government in recent times and it seems clear that many of the £76,000 a year MPs are not bothered about what happened to them. As a group their vote is taken as for granted by the present government. I have made a contribution to the film.

This film made in the London borough of Barnet because it is the most marginal council going to the polls in the country. It also has 18,200 people living there who have been affected by the decision. Every councillor standing in the May  elections needs their vote – which gives them an ideal opportunity to demand they do something for them.

This film contains contributions from two  existing Barnet councillors – one Labour, Andreas Ioannidis and another an ex Tory, Sury Khatri- who are prepared not only to listen to them but also to get something done.

There are also contributions from blogger Theresa Musgrove – best known in Barnet for her popular @brokenbarnet website- and campaigners Hilary Law, Prafula Shah and Anija Bablee. The narrator is Joanne Welch, who has put together the # BackTo60 campaign.

The programme was produced by Hello Dear films by Jaspar Warry, Joanne Welch and Yvette Greenway.

Watch it. Learn what is going on and then do something about it.

 

 

50s pensioners: Time for you to put the boot into your local councillor at May’s elections

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Waspi Pensioners :Time to use your vote wisely Pic credit: BBC

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The 3.9 million 50s pensioners have a great opportunity to get their views across at the local elections to be held on Thursday May 3.  Elections will be held in all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 68 district/borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.  There are also elections for mayors in the London boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and just outside London in Watford.

Local elections are of course about local matters. However the performance of political parties at local elections is always judged by the media as a snapshot of national voting intentions. Also the attitude of local councillors towards the plight of women denied their pensions for up to six years could well be symptomatic of their attitude towards other injustice issues.

You can do this by first getting on top the House of Commons library constituency estimates of the 3.9 million people affected here

Go to the end of the summary and download the constituency estimates ( You will need Excel on your computer).Then look up your constituency and the total number of people affected. You will find it is thousands in your constituency.

Next go onto  the  Wikipedia link at the end of the report and see if your council has elections. Then go on to the council’s site and chase up your ward councillors.

Challenge them to  put pressure on their MP to get government policy changed so you will get your money. If they refuse vote for the nearest challenger who will.

So where are the key places where 3.9 million women can make their votes count. Here are some good examples with all the links  set out for you.

In London where all the seats are up for grabs, the most obvious place to register a protest vote is Barnet. There are 18,200 women affected in the borough and the council is narrowly Conservative who oppose any change or concessions to the women.

The ruling Conservative group has a majority of one (32 Conservative, 30 Labour and one Liberal Democrat) in 2014. You can check the result for the ward you live here. 

Another is the London borough of Hillingdon where there are 16,100 women affected and it is represented by two high profile MPs, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor. The current council has 42 Conservatives and 23 Labour. You can get a ward breakdown here.

And for a different slant the Royal London borough of Kingston has 12,000 women affected (though some are in Richmond) and a council with 28 Conservatives, 18 Liberal Democrats and 2 Labour councillors – a Conservative majority of eight. You can check your ward here.

Some of you may find yourself in Richmond as  Tory Zac Goldsmith’s Richmond Park constituency straddles both boroughs.

Conservatives have a bigger majority in Wandsworth with 41 seats topping Labour’s 19 and there are 11,900 women affected living there. You can find your ward here.

A longer shot is the London Borough of Bexley which has 45 Conservative,15 Labour and three UKIP councillors. But it has 15,200 women affected. A run down on your local ward councillors is here.

.Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire is currently not under any party control. It has 25 Labour councillors, 18 Conservatives, 13 Liberal Democrats and one UKIP councillor. One third of the council is up for election. There are 14,400 women affected in the borough. So it will provide an ideal opportunity to put all the parties on the spot. You can check your ward here.

Calderdale also has a third of the council up for election. The council which covers Halifax and the surrounding area has 12,900 women affected. The council is also not under any party control. The council has 23 Labour members, 21 Conservatives , 5 Liberal Democrats and two Independents. You can find your ward here.

The full list of councils where elections are being held is here.

They include big cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne as well as smaller places like Hastings, Gosport, Portsmouth, South Lakeland, Maidstone, Huntingdon and West Lancashire.

 

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.

Why the shabbily treated 50’s women pensioners must go on the offensive and win back their money

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Time to get MPs to back the case of the 50s Women pensioners who have lost out

Today the One Voice BackTo60 group  published a report by me that they commissioned on  the case for lowering the pension age from 65, to going on 66,  to 60.

The idea is regarded by all main parties as impossible  and prohibitively expensive  and all conventional thinkers believe cannot be achieved.

They base their claims on growing longevity, that the national insurance fund  which pays out pensions is in the red, that all of the rest of Europe is raising pensions and that the new pension age is an equality measure.

All these facts are WRONG. For the first time in the UK , the projected age when we die is FALLING in poorer areas.

The National Insurance Fund is in the black. The hardship that 50’s pensioners are facing today are a calculation to save the government putting up national insurance rates until 2030. If the government did restore the money owed to the 50s pensioners, it would still be in the black until well beyond 2020.

The tide has begun to turn in Europe against raising the pension age. Poland, a country much poorer than the UK but starting to catch up with us fast, has LOWERED the pension age from 62 to 60. France under Macron is considering whether to implement a pledge by former president Mitterand to lower the pension age from 62 to 60.

And the idea of having of having an equal pension age for men and women is only superficially equal because of a host of unequal measures that the 1950s generation has had to put up with since they were born – from not being able to get mortgages, lower pay, lower occupational pensions, expected to quit work for long periods to bring up a family etc etc.

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One Voice The group that is challenging the government over the shabby treatment of 50s women.

So how can the 3.3 million women affected get a result. For a start they are many and the Establishment are few. Their sheer voting power is enough to change any general election result.

Then you have two official reports – one by the totally respected House of Commons library and the other the  current five year review of the state of the national insurance fund.

You need to weaponise the facts contained in both those reports to your advantage.

The House of Commons library report contains an accompanying document that gives a breakdown of where you all are – by Parliamentary constituency. Check the MPs majority and target him or her to change their mind. MPs are always worried about being re-elected, play on their fears.

The NI fund reveals the money is there – but also reveals that a future generation of pensioners will suffer if wages don’t go up ( that automatically increases NI contributions) and also if immigration stops – the flow of young, healthy people to  the UK who automatically pay into the NI fund increases resources for pensioners ( elderly people don’t come to  the UK because of its  cold damp, drizzly winters – they prefer sunny Spain or Portugal).

Then there are the political  parties. Not a single mainstream party has a decent policy for you.

The Tories only plan further rises in the pension age and have no interest in helping you out.

The Labour Party’s  works and pensions spokesperson Debbie Abrahams has a cost neutral proposal which reduces the age to 64  but gives you a reduced pension for life. Totally unsatisfactory.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman, Stephen Lloyd, has an idea of giving everyone of you £15,000 tax free – a sticking plaster plan. How can you live on £15,000 for six years in some cases?

Put very simply you can explain to the Tories that they are in government because of older people’s votes. Tell them you won’t for them and very likely they won’t be in government.

You can influence Labour  by targeting its huge membership of nearly 570,000. This means that even in constituencies where there is a big Tory majority – there is often now a big  local Labour Party. For example my constituency Hertfordshire  South West ( incidently the safe seat of David Gauke, the former works and pensions secretary) has 800-900 members. Lobby them, get them to put up a motion to the next party conference and get the Labour Party to change its policy.

You can also influence the Liberal Democrats – who now have more members than the Tories – and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists to do the same thing.

Show them you are not going away and redress the shabby treatment you have received and win the argument.