Britain: Sleep walking into the valley of death

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Glasgow Necropolis; Glasgow is nearly at the bottom for life expectancy for men and women. Pic Credit: historicgraves.com creative commons

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Britain is literally dying. Ever since the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition came to power a 50 year improvement in the  death rate year on year went into reverse. Whether it is the weather’s toll on the elderly,  more homelessness or the NHS failing to cope, something has happened and nobody either  notices or wants to know.

The figures are not speculation. They are official and were published in a report from the House of Commons library just before Parliament came back after the Easter recess.

It is however remarkable that this abrupt change in trends has happened ever since successive governments committed themselves to austerity. The period also  coincides with a huge attack on the welfare state – including cuts in working benefits and  a £77 billion reduction in pension payments to  3.9 million women aged between 60 and 65 – soon to be 66 – which is known to have taken its toll.

What the figures show is that: Between 1961 and 2011 both the   crude  death rate( number of deaths per 1000 people) fell every year.

Since 2011, both the number of deaths and the crude death rate have increased. The number of deaths has increased more than the crude death rate, as some of the increase in the number of deaths was due to population growth.

Provisional figures on the number of weekly deaths indicate that winter mortality was higher than usual in early 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Improvements to life expectancy have slowed in recent years for both men and women, but estimates of life expectancy have not fallen compared with earlier periods.
Among the countries and regions of the UK, in the period 2014-16 life expectancy at birth and at age 65 was highest for women in London and for men in the South East. It was lowest for both women and men in Scotland.

This winter Theresa May presided over the largest number of deaths in recent years. The report reveals that during the first twelve weeks of 2018 the figure reached 154,684 and exceeded the 149,978 equivalent figure for  2015 – when it was known there was a serious winter flu epidemic.

This year’s flu epidemic numbers have not been as great as 2015 but the overall death rate is higher.

The report also reveals that life expectancy is still going up – but at a much slower rate than previously predicted and there is a huge difference between those living in London and the South East and much of the rest of the country – with many of the lowest life expectancy in  Scotland and the North. The difference between the metropolitan and the south and the North and Scotland is nearly 10 years.

Highest life expectancy for women ( between 86 and 86.8 years) is in Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Hart,Westminster and Chiltern ( Chesham in Buckinghamshire).

Lowest life expectancy for women  ( between 78.7 and 79.6) is in West Dumbartonshire, Glasgow, Manchester, Blackpool, Middlesbrough, North Lanarkshire and Dundee.

For men the highest rates ( from 83.7 to 82.5) are Kensington and Chelsea,East Dorset, Chiltern,Hart and Harrow.

The lowest rates  for men  ( from 73.4 to 75.4) are Glasgow, Blackpool, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire).

This disclosure suggests that since 2011 the country has been going into reverse and I don’t believe this is a coincidence. Nasty sharp government  policies are literally taking their toll.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

50’s Women:”Nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months” – Theresa May’s crass error

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does churnalism damage your wealth ( and your pension)?

Nigel Lawson: A Euro take on dangers of churnalism.Pic courtesy Daily Telegraph

I am not a natural fan of Nigel Lawson. I didn’t agree with his slashing the higher tax rate when he was chancellor. I don’t agree with his views on climate change. I am sceptical of his Eurosceptism. (though I think there is a major democratic deficit in the EU).

Yet in an interview  I did for Exaro News (see http://bit.ly/vOq5Ap ) he makes a rather clever observation about the relationship between the current  market turbulence and the standard of reporting by journalists.

 He says the combination of  superficial reaction by the markets to the growing crisis in the Eurozone and the unquestioning nature of  journalists covering current financial events in Europe is making a bad situation incredibly worse.

What he says is that journalists  reporting the recent crisis in Greece and Italy – produce instant reports to meet a 24/7 agenda that are superficial and proved wrong within 48 hours.  The practice of this press release journalism – known as churnalism – is brilliantly dissected by my friend Guardian hack Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News.

The market traders – equally superficial also working to that  same punishing 24/7 schedule believe the press headlines and make equally wrong calls – pushing shares, currencies and debt interest rates up and down like a yo-yo.

You might say so what – it’s only a game played by a load of overpaid market gamblers and equally (sometimes) overpaid superficial hacks. But there is a very serious point.

With the demise of the final salary and public sector pension – hundreds of millions of people are relying on their future wealth and happiness on investments made by these people to fund their lifestyle in their old age.

 It does not help anybody but the most extreme speculators that these are now subject to such superficial judgements and reporting. The losers are the general public, you and me, who could have even lower returns from market madness.

 Lawson’s point suggests the need for some mature market traders. It also makes the case for the relevance of  real journalism and proper analysis. Another good reason why we need good reporters who have time to think and look beyond superficial statements and gloss  made by politicians, both in the media and the blogosphere. Otherwise it could cost us a lot of money.

Incidently he also has the opposite view  to George Osborne, the present Tory chancellor, about what  should happen to the Euro ( this article is at http://bit.ly/t79TJV )

Election Campaign:What the politicians and civil servants didn’t tell us

Are you voting without them telling you all the facts?

The election is virtually over. Tomorrow  you can cast your vote.  The parties will concentrate on their key messages over the last hours before polling day. But have all the issues been covered? No way.
 
Just as there is a black hole in all the parties’ planned spending cuts, there are lots of issues that have not been properly covered and many more that have been completely ignored.
They fall into three groups: there are issues that have been discussed but  not properly explored; there are issues that have been ignored by the political parties; and, perhaps surprisingly, there have been issues that Whitehall – not the politicians – has buried under the carpet.
 
The biggest issue that has not been properly explored is immigration. It was partly catapulted into the election by Gordon Brown’s “Bigotgate” gaffe after meeting pensioner Gillian Duffy, but the parties have tried to obscure the facts.
 
The Tories have promised to introduce a cap on immigration – but it will not apply to the 27 existing members of the European Community. They account for 80 per cent of immigration – according to Channel Four’s fact check file – almost 1.8 million people coming into Britain against 1 million Brits going to live in the EU.
 
While those coming from outside the EU account for only 20 per cent of immigration, according to a BBC analysis for the last recorded year, 8,000 more people left than came in. In effect this makes Cameron’s cap almost meaningless.
 
The Liberal Democrats, while promising to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been here for 10 years, estimate it could help 600,000 – but, as Nick Clegg admits himself, nobody knows where they are. UKIP would block immigration altogether – but that will mean leaving the EU as well. The Liberal Democrats’ policy would mean hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants paying taxes, while Labour say they would deport them all, if they can find them. So more heat than light.
 
Then there are buried issues. The biggest is pensions and how we are going to fund an ageing population. The Tories have promised to raise the pension age to 66 but not until 2016, after the next election.
 
And while the election is taking place, more companies are ending final salary schemes, which will make it more difficult to get a good pension, and the cost of providing care is going up all the time. The parties have touched on the cost of care but the multi billion pounds for pensions has not even been debated. Anyone thinking seriously about this would know that something has got to give.
 
Similarly, for younger people, one issue that might have been raised is the draconian measure – rushed through Parliament just before the election – to curb illegal file-sharing.  There is now a law that could give the music and video business powers to demand internet providers disconnect people from the internet. This has been barely mentioned.
 
Other issues hardly touched on include the environment, overseas aid, transport and housing.
 
But probably the most surprising thing that happened during the election was a decision by Whitehall – which runs the country while the PM is busy campaigning – to ban the release of new statistics which would have revealed how much you are funding farmers and agribusiness through the European Union.
 
Last Friday the EU expected every one of their 27 members to release details of the billions of euros spent subsidising farmers and big companies to produce food for last year. Every country except the UK published these figures.
 
In Whitehall, civil servants took the decision that to release this information in the middle of an election campaign would be wrong. They justified this on the grounds that some Parliamentary candidates might be receiving the  subsidies. I quote the explanation: “This decision reflects the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the UK Civil Service, given the potential risk that … payment  information relating to any individuals involved in the election might be used as part of election campaigning.” Possibly as many as 80 candidates, mainly Conservative, and a few UKIP and Liberal Democrats are benefitting from this.
 
Extraordinarily, in Scotland – where there is a devolved government – the figures were released. They showed that 19,000 farmers and businesses shared nearly £600m of taxpayers’ money. The figure for the UK was over £3 billion the previous year.
 
But the effect was to close down any political debate on the cost of the EU to the taxpayer. Other statistics like hospital admissions, road statistics and all the economic data have all been released.
 
So it is not only politicians who have limited debate during the election.

This blog is also on the msn website as part of their general election coverage.