My Blog in 2018: Year of growth

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

To my surprise the number of hits on my blog soared to a new record of 464,000 this year- up by over 350,000 from just under 100,000 last year.

This huge increase was almost entirely to the support given by this blog to the plight of the 50s born women who are facing up to six years delay in getting their pensions.

I was persuaded by Joanne Welch, director of the BackTo 60 campaign – who I knew from previous work she had done in helping the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse – to investigate for the energetic campaign whether the government’s reasons for raising the pension age from 60 to 66 were justified. I found they were not on all counts from money, longevity to equality.

The result was a blog which revealed that a decision taken by the Thatcher government in 1988 – as much as £271billion had been denied to the National Insurance Fund – by the abolition of the annual Treasury grant and later limitation of grant payments by successive governments. This post attracted a phenomenal 188,000 and more hits. It still is attracting new readers today.

Subsequent blogs on the subject attracted 14,500, 19,000, nearly 31,000 and over 33,000 culminating in over 56,000 when – against the odds- the 50s women with the help of Michael Mansfield QC won permission for a judicial review. The blog telling you how you can boot out your MP if he or she won’t support the campaign – attracted nearly 31,000 hits – and led to an amazing 4,600 hits on the House of Commons library reference paper which gave a constituency by constituency breakdown of where the affected women live.

Thanks for the deluge of Christmas greetings from so many 50s women this year supporting the blog and my work.

Gosport

The other main achievement this year which I can’t blog about – as I was member of the independent panel- was the report on the scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital where at least 456 elderly people had their lives shortened by the over prescribing of drugs. I am very proud of this report and the amazing professional collaboration led by former Bishop James Jones, who chaired the panel inquiry, that produced the findings hidden from people for nearly 20 years.

mental health

I also this year worked with the extraordinary Professor Suman Fernando, who at 85, is a tireless campaigner for mental health reform and author of a book outlining the history of racism in psychiatry.

I was a member of a working party which tried – with only partial success – to influence Theresa May’s planned reform of the mental health act. They were particularly exercised by institutional racism in mental hospitals which sees a disproportionate number of Afro-Caribbeans sectioned every year and some appalling examples of deaths in police custody. The mental health service is in a pretty bad state anyway.

I am unhappy about the outcome and will blog about this later.

domestic and sexual abuse

Last December I was invited to attend a national conference hosted by the BBC on domestic abuse and addressed by leading figures in government, the ministry of defence and Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how employers could help people suffering domestic abuse.

This campaign was led by Elizabeth Filkin, another tireless campaigner and a former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I blogged about it last December and was reminded this Christmas again when I willingly agreed as part of a libel settlement with John Hemming to donate £500 to the Victim Support charity and got it earmarked solely for dealing with domestic abuse.

There also was a great story of hope for child sex abuse survivors when a former victim who successfully saw his abuser jailed for 33 years for crimes committed in North Wales decades ago set up a successful volunteer project in Cumbria to tackle the issue of child sex abuse. See here

fire engine scandal

This year has seen a very gratifying outcome for those who followed the scandal over the privatisation of London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines which led them to be handed to a bunch of spivs who milked the contract for personal gain.

I have been following the story since 2011 when the Fire Brigades Union raised the issue of Assetco taking over responsibility for maintaining and replacing London’s fire engine fleet.

This year the Financial Reporting Council caught up with former Assetco directors John Shannon, Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle and barred them from practising as accountants for 16. 14 and 12 years respectively. They were branded fraudsters and liars for the way they handled the firm’s accounts and the Serious Fraud Office has been passed their details. The blog got over 4000 hits.

The accountant from Grant Thornton who supervised and passed the fraudulent accounts has also been fined along with his firm.

lack of reporting

The one common theme in all these stories – with the major exception of Gosport – has been the paucity or non existence of coverage in the mainstream media. They have been diverted by wall to wall coverage of Brexit but I think it reflects the fact of an increasing reluctance to put resources into proper investigative journalism. The country will be a far less informed place if this continues and it will give a green light to those who think they can get away with bad practices, incompetence, maladministration and fraud and ruin the lives of ordinary people without any proper scrutiny.

Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Whitehall’s shameful database of women’s pathetic state pensions

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Department for Work and Pensions – still misleading  the public on the huge gap between men and women pensioners

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In May this year  Which? Money published the  results of access the consumer organisation had  to the entire  Department for Work and Pension database on pensions. The headline result press released by Which ? Money here  was that women  are worse off now than men  by a staggering  £29,000 over a 20 year old period.

The disclosure led Harry Rose, Which? Money editor, to warn : “Our evidence shows how variable people’s state pension payments still are. Many pensioners will be shocked by the differences in average payouts to men and women and those qualifying under the old and new systems.”

The issue is worth raising because just last week the Department of Work and Pensions published its annual report ( more to come in a future blog) which despite Which? Money findings  from the DWP’s own database perpetuates the myth that some how today’s pensioners are living the high life with little or no housing costs and longer and longer life expectancy.

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The agenda is clear – paving the way in five years time for yet another rise in the pension age – and totally ignoring the present plight of 50s women denied pensions for up to six years . Add the fact that it could take decades now before men and women receive an equal pension. The average , despite the new state pension, is still 18 per cent, below a typical male pension.

The figures revealed by the Which? Money from the DWP are extremely  alarming if you are a woman. If you are a man you can be complacent – not only did you get a  good deal under the old system you are the main beneficiary of the new one.

The biggest  group of beneficiaries (8.4 million) – getting on average £142 a week- are today’s pensioners who have a long national insurance contributions and qualified for an earnings related pension. Of these 4,958,000 are men and  3,417,000 are women.

Above this on an average of  £174 a week are the spouses of these recipients who died. and they inherited their spouses NI contributions to top up their pension They are 1,454,040 women and 276,960 men – the only category where women  do better. Sadly  they have to lose a partner  to achieve it.

Much lower at £145 a week are those whose spouses died but they themselves did not have a pension  – again most are women –  679,995 to just 2045 men.

Those unfortunate enough not to be entitled to get a pension get just an average of £63 a week  based on their partner’s NI contributions – again there are 545,905 women to 1095 men.

The best off are the new state pensioners – after changes came into force in 2016  and they also had protected money to top up the new pension. They get £181 a week. But 79 per cent of these are men – 142,080 to 17,920 women. The reason for this is directly due to the plight of the 50s women who ceased to qualify for pensions at 60 and many are still waiting for one.

As anyone can see this is woefully unfair to women.  It suggests there is a long way to go to get equality  with men even when women eventually get their pension.

There is also a divide where the money is paid out – highest state pensions – between £153 and £154 a week – are paid out in East Hertfordshire, High Wycombe and Aberdeen. Lowest ( between £128 and £140 a week) – are paid in the London borough of Newham, Leicester, Manchester and Cornwall.

And there are huge differentials if you go abroad. Expatriats living now in Australia, Canada and New Zealand get frozen pensions averaging between £41 and £44 a week.

Those in Europe get pension increases every year  – bringing Spain to an average of £107.76 a week and France to £104.39 a week.

Curiously 10 UK nationals who retired  to Azerbaijan – part of the old Soviet bloc – get  an average of £127 a week.

Don’t ask me why but I did discover this website which tells you how to avoid pension  taxes by putting your money into an Azerbajiani off shore fund. According to the article 2400 British expats have done this and they don’t have to live there and participate in traditional Azerri sports such as ox wrestling or javelin throwing either. They can live in Malta and have the money paid into Azerbaijan to avoid tax. My guess is these must be high rollers who qualify for  a state pension.

Perhaps the government  should investigate this instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.