Liz Truss’s thin initiative on equality: Political sloganizing without substance

Liz Truss international trade secretary

We are now getting used to Boris Johnson’s blustering empty slogans on current problems – whether it’s Covid 19 or Brexit. What I hadn’t realised until today it is obviously standard Cabinet speak for this government – as Liz Truss, the international trade secretary and women and equalities minister, has just done the same.

Her much trailed speech at the Centre for Policy Studies was full of crowd pleasing right wing jibes bashing the Left and talking of so called unrepresentative groups campaigning for black and ethnic minorities, gays and women but getting nowhere.

But when it came to what she wanted to offer it was pretty thin gruel. She is moving the Equalities Hub from London to the North and asking the Social Mobility Commission to research the geographical disparities across the country. Wow!

motherhood and apple pie

And some of the speech read – forgive me for being sexist – like ” motherhood and apple pie”.

“Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face, delivering quality housing, cutting commute times, improving public transport, ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors, and improving our schools so every child has the same chances in life,” she opined.

Politicians have been spouting these platitudes for decades. No one is going to stand on a platform of let’s build a new generation of slums, slash public transport and cut school budgets – even if the result of some policies -under Tory governments- has been to do this.

The truth is we already know what has happened to the North and the South West without any more research. I know having looked at life expectancy figures that people in posh Kensington live much longer than those in Blackpool. I have been to Sunderland and Skelmersdale and seen the narrow life chances of people who live there. And by the way if the Tories are so worried about the North- why did both places miss out on Robert Jenrick’s largesse in his town fund scheme- in favour of Cheadle and Southport ( both Tory marginal seats unlike the former two).

Rugged individualism

It is what she going to do about this that matters. Her solution seems to be that rugged individualism will solve the lot and miraculously lift the masses out of years of deprivation. Yet to have a big impact it has to be a big partnership involving local councils, communities and diverse interest groups. She seems to suggest that one compartmentalises equality -looking at social and economic class – and ignoring whether they are black, gay, women or white working class males. In a bizarre sort of way her analysis is almost Marxist – though she would be a million miles away from his solution.

She also doesn’t seem to know that she already possesses the power to do this under the Equality Act.

One reaction from Nell Andrew, GMB National Equality and Inclusion Officer ( no doubt one of those Lefties she doesn’t like) was:

“If Liz Truss is serious in her ‘new fight for fairness’, she could start by enacting Section 1 of the Equality Act that was passed in Parliament 10 years ago and which successive Tory administrations have refused to act on. This would force public institutions to adopt effective polices to reduce the inequalities that result from class or socio-economic barriers.  

“A drastic move away from recognising peoples lived experience, ignoring qualitive evidence, is a dangerous use of smoke and mirrors to attack equality and human rights legislation.  

“All major equality and employment laws came about because of workers and communities organising around issues like racism, sexism and homophobia; fighting for more equal rights for everyone. “

Dr Meghan Campbell from the Oxford Human Rights Hub

fracturing equality

Dr Meghan Campbell, Deputy-Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, and an expert on the UN  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,(CEDAW) put it this way:

“Today’s statement appears to fracture equality between identity characteristics (race, gender etc) and socio-economic equality. The water-tight division between different types of equality is both misleading and highly strained. There are complex interactions between race, gender, disability, migration status, geography, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and poverty. Historically marginalised groups have higher rates of poverty and political and social exclusion. “

“While there are some encouraging aspects focusing in on geographic equality and poverty, but these should not be pitted against race or gender equality as equality is not a zero-sum game.

” Poverty cannot be fully addressed without transforming the institutions and norms that perpetuate poverty against women and people of colour. The statement seems to be moving back to a very individualised vision of equality that ignores how larger structures, norms and institutions can trap people into disadvantage. “

So I am not impressed. If I am very cynical just a week ago she as equalities minister got advance warning that the UN CEDAW committee in Geneva has decided to seek the UK’s response on discrimination in relation to women as the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the Back To 60 pension discrimination case. I wonder if this among other matters prompted her rushed public response.

Revealed: Dramatic rise in benefit and disability claims from women born in the 1950s

Disclosure undermines ministry claim of no link between poverty and bad health and loss of state pension

DWP case undermined by new figures


Days after the Court of Appeal rejected the judicial review brought by the BackTo60 campaigners the House of Commons library produced a set of previously undisclosed figures showing huge leaps in the numbers of 50sborn women claiming universal credit[UC] or Jobseekers allowance[JSA] and employment and support allowance [ESA].

Claims for UC and JSA – which of course were non existent when the pension age was 60 – have gone up by an average of 382 per cent between 2013 and 2019. The figures are still relatively low (from 7582 to 36,531) but the trend is overwhelmingly upwards. It also excludes those who are battling on or using up savings rather than claim.

Claims for ESA – a difficult benefit to claim unless you are hospitalised and involving a 25 page questionnaire and work capacity assessment – have soared by 185 percent – to reach 205,385 -over the same six year period.

The figures are bound to be a huge underestimate as they take no account of the rule change that allowed people to claim the benefits if they had to stay at home because of Covid 19 this year. But they do allow a direct comparison during the period when the only big material change for this group of women was the loss of their state pension.

The disclosure of these figures -obviously not available at the time of the hearing – does undermine the forceful case made by Sir James Eadie, QC, who represented the Department of Work and Pensions, that any poverty or ill health suffered by these women could not be linked to the rise in the pension age to 66.

They also back up the argument made by Mr Mansfield who is quoted in the judgement:
” It is not uncommon for women born in the 1950s to have contracted various ailments and health problems by the time they reach their early 60s, because of the environment they lived in during their early years.  He said further that it is common for women in this age group to be living in straitened circumstances particularly if they are now single, with part time jobs at best and working for low pay. 

” It is also very common for them to be caring for elderly and infirm parents.  He argued that the lack of state pension means that they have to resort to makeshift measures to make ends meet, selling their houses, using up their savings and cutting back on any non-essential spending so that they are not in a position to enjoy their retirement years.”

But the judges concluded: ” there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group. 

” The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone, if that criterion is not more difficult for the group with the protected characteristic to satisfy.”

The figures also provide a useful constituency by constituency breakdown – showing an unequal distribution of the misery caused by ill health and failure to get as job depending on where you live. The guide would provide a very useful campaigning tool if people wish to lobby their MP over the bad treatment of 50s born women over their loss of pensions – as they can quote the figures back at their MP.

These are some of the top increases and the names of the MPs who were elected at the last election.

Unemployment biggest percentage constituency rises

Knowsley 1388 pc rise from 8 to 119 George Howarth ( Lab)

Newcastle North 1347 pc rise from 6 to 88 Catherine McKinnell (Lab)

Morecombe and Lunesdale 1300 pc rise from 6 to 84 David Morris (Con)

Birmingham Yardley 1270 pc rise from 10 to 137 Jess Phillips (Lab)

Wells 1220 per cent rise from 5 to 66 James Heappey (Con)

Disabled and ESA biggest constituency percentage rises

Glasgow North East 315 pc rise from 214 to 889 Anne McLaughlin (SNP)

NE Hampshire 300 pc rise from 32 to 128 Ranil Jayawardena (Con)

Linlithgow and East Falkirk 292pc rise 149 to 584 Martyn Day (SNP)

Brecon and Radnorshire 292 pc rise from 77 to 302 Fay Jones (Con)

Leeds NE 291pc rise from 89 to348 Fabian Hamilton (Lab)

Glasgow SW 287pc rise from 205 to 794 Chris Stephens (SNP)

Interestingly Martyn Day is the one MP who challenged Boris Johnson about the court judgement at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

The full report is available here. You need to download the table on working age benefits 2020 to get all the info on the big increases in payments. There is also an up to date breakdown of the numbers of 50sborn women living in individual constituencies.

So again we yet have another disclosure backing up the case for the 50swomen to get their pensions.

A new campaign: A People’s Tribunal to get rid of ALL discrimination against girls and women.

BackTo60 yesterday launched a new campaign to get the United Kingdom to implement something they should done 34 years ago – pass laws to both empower and eliminate all discrimination against women.

For 1986 is the year Margaret Thatcher decided to sign up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( acronym CEDAW) but failed to put through Parliament any laws to back it up.

This should not be a Left versus Right issue – since Thatcherites and Corbynites and anybody in between- should agree. Unless they still hold the nineteenth century view that half the nation are inferior and should not have equal rights with men.

BackTo60 decided to launch this because next week’s Court of Appeal hearing on the government’s denial to pay back the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s their pensions from 60 to 66 – also involve the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – because there was no level playing field for women to get their pension in the first place.

This enormously broadens BackTo 60’s campaign since it involves campaigning for the rights of half the population.

The mechanism they have chosen to bring this to public attention is a People’s Tribunal – these date back to the 1960s when the Bertrand Russell Foundation – held an inquiry into the US role in the Vietnam War.

This new tribunal is expected to consist of three independent ( probably retired) judges and led by the advocate John Cooper QC. a human rights and criminal law barrister, who is regarded by the Times as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country, and was on the tribunal that investigated atrocities in Iran.

Two other key members are Professor Jackie Jones,a former MEP for Wales and Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of West England , a leading advocate and expert on CEDAW and Hannah Manzur, a former EU  Gender Policy Advisor at the European Parliament,. Here is the full statement:

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

He added that he was already having support for the idea from a number of leading figures.

Jackie Jones said on the launch: ” Enough is Enough. We have waited nearly 40 years for this. It high time this is written into law and it is really important that girls now at school should be able to reach their full potential.”

Hannah Manzur said :

“We are delighted to announce the establishment of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will act as a powerful tool in both pushing for progress on gender equality and shining a light on the Government’s failure to uphold its binding promise to take proactive and comprehensive steps to eliminate gender discrimination.

” Forty years after this groundbreaking international convention was signed by the Government, women and girls still face overwhelming barriers to achieving their full potential due to persistent inequality and discrimination.

“This Tribunal will collect an authoritative body of evidence and expertise which will be reviewed and deliberated on by a panel of independent judges.

” We will be working to assess the gap between the Government’s commitment to CEDAW and its record on gender equality, including its failure to transpose CEDAW into domestic law and appoint a UK CEDAW representative. It’s time for us to hold the Government to account on its duty to eliminate discrimination against women and make gender equality a reality for women and girls across the UK.”

The only thing I have to add is that I shall be backing this campaign with the same vigour I have showed in reporting and investigating the BackTo60 campaign for full restitution for the 3.8m women who lost out on the raising of the pension age.

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.

The great betrayal: How “friendly” MPs and Waspi Ltd want to deprive 2.5 million 1950s women of any money for lost pensions

Carolyn Harris MP : Official Parliamentary photograph

One would expect the Department for Work and Pensions to fight not to pay 3.8 million women born in the 1950s any money for lost pensions. One would expect Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, and Therese Coffey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, who have good pensions themselves, not to be bothered.

But one would not expect the two MPs who head the All Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality to be in the vanguard of depriving millions of 1950s born women getting any money at all.

Tim Loughton MP

Yet that is precisely what Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East are doing if you compare their proposals with official figures supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions of the demographic breakdown of the women affected. The figures were released to one my readers after a Freedom of Information request.

Their proposals, as I understand it, is to only offer compensation to women aged 63 and over, probably next year. If you take this point it means that all women born between April 1950 and December 1956 are excluded from getting a penny.

This means that in Great Britain (the DWP haven’t supplied the figures for Northern Ireland) if implemented next year it would only help 1.14 million women. And if you include Northern Ireland that means well over 2.5 million people will get nothing.

If the deal is delayed to 2021 just 770,000 in Great Britain will get any benefit and some 3 million people will get nothing.

Now for even those women how much will they will get. The official statement from them is vague about this.

The vague statement from the APPG

However in an interview with the Daily Express Tim Loughton fleshed this out a bit more. It reports:

“The APPG thinks a more realistic solution would be to allow those affected to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance of £73.10 a week in addition to pension credit, while still being able to qualify for free bus passes and prescriptions. This plan would cost around £2bn. It has written to Chancellor Sajid Javid asking for money to be made available in autumn budget. “

In return Mr Loughton says BackTo60 should withdraw its request for permission to appeal at the High Court.

He is quoted as saying:”It would help if 1950s women would fall in behind a single practical doable solution which would make their case so much easier. I don’t think the legal route is going to get anywhere so the Government’s hand is not going to be forced by the courts. That was always a tall order and I think the judicial review result showed that. The most likely solution is a compromise.”

When you examine this ” compromise” it is asking 50s born women to buy a pig in a poke.

For a start the present full pension is £168 a week – so £73.10 on Jobseekers’ Allowance is less than half of that. Also it is not clear if the women had to sign on whether they would be forced to attend interviews, search for work etc.

Then pension credit will be only available to people over 66 in 2020 and not even then – if their partner is younger. So is the government’s going to change the rules or what? That can’t be done immediately in a Budget.

Finally and here is the rub when women get their pension – instead of the maximum £168 .10 they will only get £159 a week. For some it might be more than their contributions but for others it will be less. That is why I said earlier this amounts to the £73.10 a week being a loan for some which they are having to pay back with a reduced pension for life.

I would love to have had the opportunity to ask Tim Loughton and Carolyn Harris to explain this – but they have ignored my emails. My view is that they don’t want to spell it out because they want to con 50s born women into accepting this pathetic offer without realising what it is.

And there is the role of Waspi Ltd and its lobbyist Connect PA. WASPI Ltd seems to be an organisation pretending to have its supporters at heart but prepared to sell many of them down the river into permanent poverty. It has been receptive to the idea of the APPG compromise whereas BackTo60, We Paid In, You Pay Out, Waspi Campaign 2018 and Waspi Scotland want nothing to do with it.

Women do have one strong card – the December 12 General Election. They can decided to vote out both of the MPs if they want to.

Tim Loughton has 6100 women in his constituency who have lost out and a majority of only 5106 over Labour. Much will depend on the views of the Labour candidate Lavinia O’Connor and whether she would support full restitution.

Carolyn Harris has 4800 women affected in her constituency but a much larger majority of 13,168 over the Tory candidate.

Whatever happens the general election campaign this does give women the power to demand something is done for them and plenty of opportunity to campaign against those who have let them down.

Tomorrow’s pension judicial decision for 3.8 million 50s born women will be a landmark event

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

While the media has been almost entirely focused on Brexit tomorrow’s judicial decision on whether 3.8 million women born in the 1950s are entitled to full restitution for the pension they lost will be ground breaking.

The BackTo60 campaign brought the case using individual examples of hardship caused by successive governments raising the women’s pension age from 60 to 66 and not taking action to give them adequate notice of the change.

Whatever decision is made it will not mean the lowering of the current pension age of 66 and will have no effect on the primary legislation that introduced the change – the 1995 Pension Act. It is entirely about compensation and discrimination towards this group of women as a result of the implementation of this and subsequent Acts of Parliament – again by successive governments- of the change.

Frankly it has not been surprising that two judges have taken nearly four months to reach a decision – even though it has been frustrating for the women themselves – many of whom have suffered severe financial hardship.

If it was a simple decision – just pay out the money – or say there is no case to answer and it can be easily dismissed- we would have had a decision months ago.

Instead the judges will have had to consider both UK and EU law and the UK’s ratification by Margaret Thatcher of the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW) – which specifies that women who have suffered discrimination must be fully compensated.

The fact that CEDAW is part of this judicial review affecting so many people is in itself ground breaking. The only other contentious issue where CEDAW has been used before, to my knowledge, is the Labour Party’s decision to apply it under the Equality Act – to use it for all women shortlists to change the composition of Parliament.

The other key issue is whether the 1995 Pensions Act itself years after it was passed created discrimination against women who are now suffering hardship. This was a key feature of the granting of the judicial review in the first place by Mrs Justice Lang who rejected the Department of Work and Pensions argument that the challenge to the 1995 Act was too late. She saw instead the courts intervening to relieve the plight of women suffering now – rather than a tardy response to legislation passed over 20 years ago. It will more than interesting to see the judges’ ruling on this point.

What will also be important will be the judges ‘reaction to the case put forward by the government’s top lawyer, Sir James Eadie, known as the Treasury Devil, who did not just accept that the women had not been informed of the change but said the DWP has no duty under the 1995 Act to inform them in the first place.

If this was accepted by the judges it would mean that nobody was entitled to be informed by law about any change in their pension – not just the 1950s women.

The opposite case was put by Michael Mansfield who argued that the Government’s decision was an ” abuse of power” which had targeted a large sub group of people who had endured hardship.

Whatever the decision tomorrow it will be a landmark one – not only for women who had to wait up to six years for their pension but also for age and sex discrimination.

Labour’s top people start at last to move to compensate 1950s born women pension losers

In conversation at the private meeting. Left to Right: Moira Ramage, prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate for Paisley and renfrewshire South;myself; Laura Alvarez and Baroness Blower

Senior Labour figures are preparing to improve their offer to compensate 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are facing hardship by having to wait up to six years for their pensions.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, indicated that the party is now looking at a new offer as the general election approaches.

 He made the comment after a private meeting at Labour’s annual conference this week organised by his office which enabled leading figures from campaigning organisations fighting the women’s cause to pitch their case to senior people from the Labour Party.

The meeting came as the two largest trade unions affiliated to Labour, Unison and Unite, backed the case for full restitution for the women. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, personally endorsed full restitution, in a tweet. The party is also discussing putting the offer in its general election manifesto.

Among the leading figures at the meeting were Laura Alvarez, the wife of Jeremy Corbyn: Andy Whitaker and Rory Macqueen respectively head of strategic communications and chief economic adviser at John McDonnell’s office; Mike Amesbury, shadow employment minister, and Fran Springfield, co chair of Labour’s disability organisation and one of the people drawing up the party’s manifesto. Mr McDonnell came to the end of the meeting.

The whole cast of #50swomen and their supporters at the meeting pose for the camera

The organisations represented included BackTo60, Waspi Scotland, Waspi Ltd and Waspi 2018.

 They were backed up by two women from Unison in Wales, Lianne Dallimore and Mac Hawkins who also addressed the meeting.

Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales, also pressed the case for full restitution and explained how it come done by a special temporary measure through Parliament using the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) which was ratified by Margaret t5hatcher in 1986. This allows the money to be paid without amending the present pension age of 66 for men and women.

At present Labour’s offer is confined to backdating payments for two years from 66 to 64  for 1950s born women but no further compensation.

Labour is also waiting the result of the judicial review held in June where Michael Mansfield, QWC put the case for full restitution for all 50s women. It has now been announced it will report on October 3 – next Thursday.

Among other people who attended the meeting were Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National union of Teachers, who is about to be ennobled as Baroness Blower; Labour MP for Ipswich Sandy Martin; Labour MEPs Jude Kirton-Darling and Richard Corbett. Moira Ramage, prospective Labour candidate for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

Revealed on Byline Times: How the DWP manipulated the pension figures to exaggerate the costs of helping the 50s women.

Department for Work and Pensions – still misleading the facts on 50swomen pensioners.

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 full story including how the DWP really knows that 50s women are badly off is in BylineTimes here. https://bylinetimes.com/2019/06/20/project-fear-how-the-dwp-is-trying-to-mislead-the-public-over-the-backto60-pension-costs/