JOHN MARKHAM : LETTER TO EDITORS, 7 APRIL 2013
Does this Government have no moral values left? The announcement that they will be willing to pay council tenants £20,000 to emigrate on their retirement to be with their children or friends beggars belief. One can only suppose that the majority of these individuals are likely to want to emigrate to countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, the Caribbean. Nowhere does the Government point out that under current legislation UK pensioners emigrating to these countries plus many others, will have their Basic State Pension frozen at the level that they start drawing it in their new country of residence. Many of your readers may query how the Government can afford this ” bribe ” at a time when the UK economy is in such a parlous state. Make no mistake the Government wins; each and every emigrating pensioner saves the UK taxpayer up to £7000 per annum since they do not use the NHS, do not draw benefits and do not incur social costs. It does not take long for the Government to start achieving a healthy return on the GBP £20,000 invested! Put the other way round, if all the 565000 currently “frozen ” pensioners around the world were to return to the UK it would cost the UK economy, or rather the taxpayer, an estimated GBP 5.6 Billion per annum!! Cheaper all round to provide pension parity for all.
When is the Government going to do the honourable and just thing and put an end to the practice of freezing pensions. The vast majority of MPs consider the practice immoral, unfair and unjust. The present Prime Minister and his Lib Dem partner in crime supported the demand for Pension Parity when in Opposition as did the current Minister sitting in DWP. The fact that they have done nothing demonstrates their moral dishonesty as does the £20,000 “bribe”.
Director UK Parliamentary Affairs
International Consortium of British Pensioners
The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP,
10 Downing Street
London, SW1A 2AA
22nd March 2013
Dear Prime Minister,
As chair of the International Consortium of British Pensioners, I represent almost 600,000 very, very angry British Pensioners living overseas.
As I’m sure you are aware, 10% of the 12 million plus British Pensioners live overseas; half of them have their pensions uprated every year as if they still live in the UK; the other half, who live mainly in the Commonwealth, do not. Over the years, Pensions Ministers of all stripes have admitted that this is illogical.
What is even more illogical is that in opposition politicians of all stripes say this policy must be changed, yet this inequitable, immoral and unfair situation still continues when those very same people are in Government!
I would draw your attention to two important statements that were made on Monday 11th March, one by the H.M. the Queen (as head of the Commonwealth), the other by Professor Steve Webb as Pensions Minister. Both statements were very relevant to the situation of retired British citizens resident in “frozen” countries around the globe.
On Monday morning, the Minister, a witness before Dame Anne Begg as chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, stated categorically that the Government has no plans to rescind this policy of pension freezing in (mainly) Commonwealth countries. The main reason given was that of cost, which would be approximately £650 million (0.7% of the N.I. budget of £90 billion) in the current year, when the Government is seeking to cut £12 billion from benefit expenditure.
To argue, as the Pensions Minister did, against a 0.7% increase in the National Insurance budget because the Government is attempting to save 6% of state funded benefits is disingenuous at best: the pensioners concerned, in addition to saving the Government all pension increases, already save them 100% of all social and health benefits by virtue of their residence abroad.
There is nothing about this ongoing frozen pension policy that is just, as you yourself stated when you were leader of HM Opposition. It is an expedient and callous way of saving money by discriminating against the 4% of UK pensioners whose pensions are frozen. A frozen pension is just another name for age discrimination, as the older you get, the smaller your pension becomes – “death by a thousand cuts” to quote Lord Goodhart – to the extent that a 95 year-old pensioner in a “frozen” country receives less than one-third of the pension of a 65 year-old in exactly the same circumstances.
On Monday evening the Queen signed the Commonwealth Charter on equal rights calling for an end to discrimination for any reason. She said “Our shared values of peace, democracy, development, justice and human rights…mean that we can place special emphasis on including everyone in this goal, especially those who are vulnerable”.
We call upon the British Government to heed this Charter and be bound by the values it espouses.
The Commonwealth Charter, the 2010 Equality Bill, and the Convention on Human Rights all condemn age discrimination. And, significantly, the UK Supreme Court reiterated only a month ago: “A discriminatory rule or practice can only be justified by reference to a legitimate aim other than the simple saving of cost.”
Apart from cost, the only other reasons the Minister gave for freezing pensions were that the “rules have never changed” under the current or previous Governments, and that pensioners were aware of the frozen pensions policy when they decided to emigrate. In our view, advising a person that they will be discriminated against will not stand as a defense for putting the discrimination into practice.
An estimated 5.5 million people of British heritage live overseas, and 1.1 million of these are UK pensioners. These people, for the most part, are proud of their British heritage and retain strong links with their mother country. Many of them, and indeed individuals currently resident in the UK, will be adversely affected by this discrimination as they reach pensionable age. They should be regarded as an asset in spreading their British values around the globe, especially to Commonwealth countries. It becomes difficult to promote these values when the UK, one of the richest countries on the planet, seeks to balance its budget on the backs of some of its oldest citizens by this ‘long-standing policy’ of freezing pensions.
Just because the frozen pensions policy is ‘long-standing’ doesn’t mean it is right, nor does it mean it is immutable. In fact ‘long standing’ in the context of frozen pensions means it is overdue for a change. UK state pensions are being drastically overhauled to make them fit for the 21st century, and it is appropriate to do the same for the policy that freezes the pensions of just half of UK pensioners overseas. Pretending that the discrimination doesn’t exist will not make it disappear.
ABW (Tony) Bockman
International Consortium of British Pensioners
The following item appeared in Hansard dated Tuesday 9 October for the Australian House of Representatives:-
(Question No. 1121)
Mr Oakeshott asked the Prime Minister, in writing, on 14 August 2012:
In respect of a recent media report in the United Kingdom “Canada salutes frozen pensions fighters” by Ava Hubble (The Telegraph, 5 June 2012), has she pressured the Government of the United Kingdom to index British pensions for the 550,000 United Kingdom expatriate pensioners living abroad; if not, why not?
Ms Gillard: I am advised that the answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Australian Government considers the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s policy of not indexing pensions in most Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, where the majority of its expatriate pensioners reside, to be unfair and discriminatory. The Government strongly supports the efforts of UK pensioners seeking equal treatment on the indexation issue. All UK pensioners paid their contributions under the same rules and should be paid their pensions under equal conditions.
Prior to the media report cited by the honourable member, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, issued a statement on 21 May 2012 that also appeared in the online edition of the The Telegraph, reiterating that the Government considers the indexation policy to be unfair and discriminatory and urging her UK counterparts to look at options for resolving this longstanding issue.
Minister Macklin recently met with her UK counterpart, the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP and reiterated the Government’s views on the indexation issue. In this context, the UK Government has agreed to an officials dialogue with Australia, including examination of options for indexation.
On previous occasions when Government Ministers have approached UK Government Ministers on the indexation issue, the consistent message is that the indexation issue is not open for negotiation due to concerns about the cost to the UK Government. I understand the Canadian Government has made similar approaches on this issue and has been given the same response.
I note that there have been requests that Canada and Australia work together on this issue. The Government will consider the possibility of joint action with other affected countries, such as Canada, if an opportunity arises. In the meantime, the Government will continue to press the UK Government on this issue, whenever appropriate.