MPs slam complacent equality watchdog and the government over “rife ” ageist discrimination

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The Equality Act: Government complacency is allowing rife discrimination in the workplace against the over 50s Pic credit: Parliament UK

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A damning report from the  Commons women and equalities committee has attacked the country’s equality watchdog and ministers for their complacent attitude in tackling age discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

The report released by the all party committee of MPs warns that the talents of up to one million women over the age of 50 are being wasted by outdated employment policies. Its strongly worded condemnation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ministers responsible for equality follows what can only be described as a pretty lack lustre response from both.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Without effective intervention from the Government and EHRC, we cannot see how discriminatory practices against older people in employment, that we know are rife, will be tackled. That’s why I find the responses we have received today disappointing as we had hoped they would have worked together to agree specific enforcement actions across both the public and private sectors.

Our Committee will be taking follow up action to make sure we get the change that is desperately needed.”

The response from MPs highlights what they see as a failure to implement the  2010 Equality Act. They are particularly scathing of the failure by the EHRC which has powers – which appear to be rarely used – to use enforcement procedures  against employers who have ageist recruitment policies.

The lack of the use of its powers is worrying given that campaigners for 50s women who are waiting up to six years to get a pension also want the EHRC to use its powers to remedy what they see as discrimination against this group. This group who are being forced to look for work until they are 65 – are facing a double bind of  finding employers don’t want them while the state won’t give them a pension.

They have even had the facetious suggestion from Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, that they take jobs as apprenticeships at £3.60 an hour while they wait until they get a  pension.

The EHRC today said it would take action – even though this seems to be confined to fine words rather than deeds.

A spokeswoman  said: ““Everyone has the right to work and the right to a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential. We have taken and will continue to take robust enforcement action, using all of our statutory powers, to tackle unlawful discrimination and ensure that no one is excluded from the workplace. This includes enabling Britain’s employers to benefit from the talent and contributions of workers of all ages.

“The right to request flexible working should apply from day one in all jobs and we have stressed the need for employers to make their workplaces accessible for everyone, including older people, parents and carers. We have also sought to tackle bias in recruitment by taking action against discriminatory adverts that request characteristics or terms that are associated with a particular age group.”
MPs are particularly angry that the government will not enact section 14 of the Equality Act – which would allow people to bring multiple ground cases against employers who discriminate against them. Thus an older woman could not bring a case on both age and sex – she has to choose one or the other.

Both former women’s minister Harriet Harman and the Fawcett Society have condemned ministers for not doing this. The government says it won’t do it because it increases burdens on business and promises more research in its response. One has to ask as this legislation was passed by Parliament – there must have been some research already behind it – so this is a pretty lame excuse.

The government uses the same excuse of putting too much a burden on employers to make it mandatory for firms employing over 250 people to publish an age breakdown of staff. Yet Whitehall already does it.

Altogether this is a pretty pathetic response from both the government and the watchdog to a serious issue. But I am very glad that the committee is also very dissatisfied and intends to pursue both organisations to come up with something better. You can get the full report here.

Conservatives v Corbyn: How the Tory party’s policy vacuum has left them floundering among the under 45s

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George Freeman, MP – man behind revitalising Tory policies. Pic credit: Wikipedia

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Beyond the  media hype of the Brexit battle between Boris and Theresa May this year’s Conservative Party conference was a heart searching  and navel gazing spectacle.

Clearly still rattled by the result of 2017 election where Theresa May lost them their overall majority – by far the biggest topic on the fringe was how can they woo back droves of people under 45 who have deserted them for Labour.

Unusually for a party in power  there were strident calls to develop new policies to win back these lost voters. Usually parties in government can take the initiative as they have the reins of power  and can produce plenty of fresh ideas.

But the Tories at this conference were behaving like a party in opposition – a huge navel gazing exercise in a desperate search for new policies. Tory MP Chris Skidmore, policy vice chairman of the party, virtually gave the game away at a reception for the Conservative Policy Forum – when he alluded to the great revival of ideas by  Sir Keith Joseph, which propelled Margaret Thatcher into Downing Street.  But that was the 1970s when the party had lost power after Edward Heath’s disastrous performance.

David Cameron also tried to soften the image of the party – again the new ideas came when the party was in opposition in 2008.

So what are they trying to do? One of the more illuminating debates came at the  Centre for Policy Studies fringe with the intriguing title, Today’s Millenials, Tomorrow’s Conservatives?

Chaired by Times columnist, Rachel Sylvester,it was platform for two potential rising stars, Sam Gyimah, the universities minister and a late replacement, Guy Opperman, the pensions minister.

The two were remarkably honest about the dilemma.  Sam Gyimah admitted they were used to 18-21 year olds being left wing radicals but not the 25 to 45 year old age group. whom would be in work and bringing up families.

He blamed the continual war within the Tory party over Brexit as putting off young voters.

Guy Opperman admitted that they would not win by negative campaigning against Corbyn ”  We won’t win  by portraying Corbyn  as an insane  antisemitic Hamas supporting, Cuba loving, terrorist” he said.

That message did not seem to have reached the Tory party platform where Sajid Javid  , the home secretary, warned of the security risk of having Corbyn as Prime minister and May devoted part of her speech to denouncing Corbyn over antisemitism, supporting Russia, decrying Nato and appearing on Press TV.

What did they want. Well, without a real trace of irony, it was the need for momentum without the capital M.

Energy, drive, policies that were inclusive, equal pay for women, responsible capitalism, support for the NHS and more and more housing. In olden times, it would be called progressive conservatism. Guy Opperman as pensions minister, was asked by one member of the audience whether to remove parts of the triple lock on pensions to assuage the plight of the young. He was remarkably silent on this saying he did not want to make manifesto commitments at this time. Pressed afterwards he said he liked to get away from always talking about pensions.

But what was missing was any big idea on how to tackle the issues that Labour was pushing – the failure of private firms running the railways, over crowded classrooms, police and prison service  in crisis,giving workers a bigger stake in private companies. They will have to offer real alternatives to wean voters away from Labour. Their only big point was that Corbyn hadn’t the money to do anything about it without ruinous taxation and borrowing.

It is all predicated on Britain entering the sunny uplands once we have left the EU and can plan for a post Brexit society. If Brexit turns into chaos it will further alienate that target age group.

Labour should not be complacent about the dilemma the Tories face. At the Conservative Policy  Forum reception there was a strong rallying cry for people to set up constituency wide policy groups to try and draw up more attractive policies and to reach out to non Conservatives – I expect aimed at that 25-45 year age group – to participate.

Just before I left I had a word with  George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, one of the most active MPs seeking new Tory policies to appeal to the younger voter. Surprised to find that a hack had sneaked into the reception to hear about their plans, he jested I was only there for the drink. More seriously he asked:

” Why don’t you join  the Conservative forum and help us devise new policies?”

I politely declined, made my excuses and left.

 

Revealed: The £271 billion “rape” of the National Insurance Fund that deprived 50s women of their state pension

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Guy Opperman – the current pension minister who says it is too expensive to pay the 50s women.

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The fact that 50s women  were robbed of their pensions  by raising the pension age is undeniable. But the biggest argument against putting this right has been the cost – a fact perpetually used by the present pensions minister, Guy Oppenman, who quotes the £70 billion plus figure.

Recently I discovered that successive governments had taken a decision  NOT to top up the fund as originally proposed by William Beveridge when the welfare state was set up in 1948.

What I did not know was how much money was lost. Now thanks to an extraordinary paper prepared for the National Pensioners Convention by a social security expert Tony Lynes,and still on the web, I now know. And it is staggering. You can read it here.

The paper written 12 years ago by a man I personally knew as a fount of all knowledge on the benefit system  when I was social services correspondent on the Guardian. He sadly died, aged 85, in a car accident in 2014. There is an appreciation of him in The Guardian here.

His calculation from beyond the grave is that for every year that the government decided not to contribute to the fund it was deprived of £11.3 billion. As he says: “Restoring the supplement at its pre-1981 level would bring an extra £11.3 billion a year into the Fund, enough to meet the gross cost of a £109 per week basic pension.”

We now know that virtually no money was paid into the fund by the Treasury for around 24 years from 1990 to 2014. I calculate – and this will be a conservative estimate – because it doesn’t count the reduced contributions post 1981 – that an amazing £271 billion  yes billion  extra would have been in the fund.

This would pay  more than three times over the money due to the women – and even allowed higher  state pensions for everybody else now.

Why this didn’t happen is because politicians of all three major parties took a decision not to do this. They took the decision knowing that their Parliamentary and ministerial pension pot would mean they would be some of the wealthiest pensioners in the land when they came to retire. And the taxpayer would foot their bills.

They decided the pain should fall on the electorate instead. In 1995 they knew  all the arguments about people living longer and that money paid out in state pensions would go up.

They  could have changed the rules and informed the Government Actuary  Department that they would deliberately build up a surplus in the fund – so it could pay out as people lived longer without changing the pension age.

Instead they chose the cheapest  route – raise the pension age so they won’t have to subsidise the fund- but try and keep mum so the women wouldn’t realise what they were doing.

The villains are the late Lady Thatcher, John Moore, Kenneth Clarke, Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Steve Webb and Guy Opperman. There are many others who stood by and did nothing. That is why 50s women have been left in this situation today.

 

 

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.

 

Department for Work and Pensions postpones new nasty for poverty stricken pensioners until 2019

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Guy Opperman, pensions minster and MP for Hexham pic credit: guy opperman website

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The Department of Work and Pensions has put back harsh plans to change the rules for new claimants for pension credit from next June to sometime next year.

The decision not to implement savings that could lead to  tens of thousands of elderly people having to live on half the money paid out by pensioner credit is not motivated by a change of heart on a heartless measure.

It is because of incompetence and failure by the ministry itself to roll out another major benefit called universal credit – which replaces a whole series of benefits – on time. This was supposed to be nationwide by June this year. But the civil servants who planned it failed in their job – despite collecting bonuses worth £20,000 on top of six figure salaries for introducing the new benefit. You can read all about it in my blog last year here.

So now instead the benefit will not be rolled out across the country until the end of December 2018. The proposed timetable is here– and you can see which local area changes when.

Of course the department has not announced the delay to the new pension credit cuts until I contacted them to check the date. Rather like they forgot tell 3.9 million  women pensioners about the rise in the pension age until some 14 years later.

A spokesman told me:

“The timetable for the introduction of any policy changes will be determined by the roll out of universal credit – this change will not now be implemented this year.”

The measure as I reported earlier is particularly harsh if there is a big age difference between pensioner couples – with one say years younger than the other.

Previously the law said when the oldest person in a relationship reached pension age  they qualified for pension credit. Now it is being changed to the youngest person in the relationship reaching pension age. This means if there were a 10 year difference – the oldest person could get no pension credit payment until they were 76 – ten years after the raised retirement age. On person has told me of a 17 year difference – meaning one of them would wait until they were 83.

What is as shocking is the department’s disclosure to me on how the new system is planning to work. When it comes in they are proposing both people in a couple apply for universal credit when there is an age difference between the two- and only one is over 65. The change is devastating.

If you are on pension credit these are the rates (per week) for 2017 – 18 and the proposed rate for 2018-19

PENSION CREDIT
Standard minimum guarantee
single £159.35  rising to £163.00
couple £243.25   rising to £248.80
Additional amount for severe disability
single £62.45  rising to£64.30
couple (one qualifies) £62.45 rising to £64.30
couple (both qualify) £124.90 rising to  £28.60

But when you switch to Universal Credit these are the rates for 2018-19 per month:

Single claimant 25 and over £317.82
Joint claimants, either/both 25 and over £498.89

This means a couple instead of receiving £995.20 for 4 weeks would see their income halved to £498.89 a month until both of them were over, by then, 66.

Furthermore the younger person in the marriage will be subject to benefit sanctions if they fail to continually seek work. This would cut their benefit compared to pension credit by two thirds to just £313.82 a month.

Notice there are no new rates for universal credit for 2018-19 as the benefit is frozen unlike pensioner credit which rises in line with pensions. This in theory could mean the people deprived of pension credit could be forced to live on a frozen benefit for years and see their living standards fall every year.

The DWP is being generous enough to say they would not force a person over 65 to seek work and sanction them if they don’t succeed. Presumably even Mr Opperman, the pensions minister, would not want to be seen trying to force a 77 year old into a job while he or she waits for pension credit.

Frankly  this is an appalling situation and I hope Backto60 people take this up as well as demanding their pension and try and put pressure on MPs to tell the government not to go ahead next year. This is a real and sustained attack on the poorest pensioners in the country and ministers should be ashamed of thinking of implementing it.

 

 

 

Tories to implement new nasties for next generation of poverty stricken pensioners

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Guy Opperman, pensions minster and MP for Hexham pic credit: guy opperman website

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The attack on the 3.9 million 50s women who have lost their pension income is about to be stepped up again – with the poorest pensioners suffering a new round of misery  as a result of legislation passed by the coalition government in 2013.

The Mirror in a scoop last week by Dan Bloom has revealed that nearly one million women who could have claimed pension credit have been denied cold weather payments this year because of the rise in the pension age.

Pension credit is paid to the poorest people who can’t qualify for a pension and have less than £10,000 savings but it is linked to the pension age. It is also the passport to other benefits  – including cold weather payments. This year’s cold weather provoked by the Beast from the East has  meant more money has had to be paid out – but ministers have saved millions by raising the pension age.

According to the Mirror: There were 2.6 million eligible claimants on Pension Credit in 2010/11, the Commons Library figures show.

That fell to 2.4million in 2012/13, 2.1million in 2014/15, 1.9million in 2015/16, 1.8million in 2016/17 and 1.7million in 2017/18.

But there is worse in the pipeline. From this June a particularly nasty measure comes into force for new people claiming pension credit. Basically it means that if a woman falls for a younger man or a man falls for a younger woman – their entitlement to pension credit is forfeited when they reach the new higher pension age.

Previously the law said when the oldest person in a relationship reached pension age  they qualified for pension credit. Now it is being changed to the youngest person in the relationship reaching pension age. This means if there were a 10 year difference – the oldest person could get no pension credit payment until they were 76 – ten years after the raised retirement age.

The details are in this document here. House of Commons library Pension Credit – 2017 onwards. You can access it here.

The money involved is substantial :

Rates 2017/18

Standard minimum guarantee single £159.35 couple £243.

Additional amount for severe disability

single£62.45 couple (one qualifies) £62.45 couple (both qualify)£124.90

Additional amount for carers £34.95

But there  are also two other changes in the small print of pension changes coming into force. One involved a rather obscure named  Assessed Income Period (AIP)introduced by Labour in 2002 and 2008.

“The Labour Government’s intention, with the introduction of AIPs, was to make means-testing less intrusive for pensioners, by no longer requiring them to report changes of circumstance to the Pension Service on a weekly basis,” according to House of Commons library.

This meant the government only means tested people every five years and once pensioners reached 75 it stopped. At the time Tories and Liberal Democrats were worried that if people got worse off they wouldn’t get extra benefits.

Once both parties were in power they decided to abolish this – but not for that reason. The financial impact of such a change was shown in 2013 to benefit the government with  cuts worth £45m by making it law that pensioners lucky enough to get any extra income had to report it immediately so they could slash pension credit.

Another cut came into force in 2016. This reduced the period  people on pensioners credit could go abroad from 13 weeks to four – without having the benefit taken away. As  one of the comments from Buried News points out allowing people to spend a cold winter in warmer climes might help the elderly. But both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats at the time would have nothing of it.

The benefit is only claimed by 60 per cent of the people who are entitled to it. The House of Commons library report said: “Up to 1.4 million families who were entitled to receive Pension Credit did not claim it and up to £3.3 billion of available Pension Credit went unclaimed.”

Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, told Parliament:” We are committed to ensuring that older people receive the support they are entitled to and the Department targets activity on engaging with people who may be eligible at pivotal stages such as when they claim State Pension or report a change in their circumstances.”

He claimed the best way to help the elderly was to create “a web-based Pension Credit toolkit containing a range of resources for anyone working with pensioners.”

Somehow given his determination to slash the pension budget I suspect few people will believe he is really committed to that.