There are four easily discernible behaviours – in contemporary Government responses to the SPA injustice – that suggest a future agenda on State Pensions: one of abolition, not nurture. The WASPI campaign needs to raise awareness of the broader rights at stake.
Yesterday, Dame Joan Bakewell asked the Government in the House of Lords when they were going to confront the disgraceful – and utterly mendacious – handling of the State Pension Reform that began in 1995. The ‘reform’ process was about as informed and fair as the British media’s coverage of the ongoing rape of Greece. Except that in this, the case of Dame Joan’s query, our media chose to ignore it completely.
I’m sorry, that’s a little unfair. BBC Parliament covered the event live, because that’s what they do. Googling today, I’d say not many people were tuned in*: they’d turned off and dropped out:
Those of pensionable age will be the few left who might ‘get’ that mangling of the old Timothy Leary line; but then, this entire Waspi issue is about what a pensionable age actually is. Dame Joan has made this abundantly clear in all her many and varied public interventions, but whatever happens beyond mass demonstration and collecting Labour /SNP good wishes, the reaction to Waspi’s case is always the same: awareness of the campaign remains pitifully low, and the media doesn’t care. It does not, after all, include any love-rats, jihadists, or Brexits. Nobody from Waspi is on Strictly. It doesn’t owe the Central Bank 45 zillion Dollars. Simon Cowell is unimpressed with the campaign anthem. So it doesn’t feature.
For those reading about what is in reality a grave human rights issue involving thin ends of fat wedges, let me summarise. The State Pension Age (SPA) used to be 60 for women; it is now 66. In 1995 the Conservatives passed an Act gradually increasing that to 62. It suffered the same fate as Joan Bakewell’s speech yesterday. During the years of things only getting better, Labour (more precisely, Gordon Brown) did nothing to change a ludicrously unfair targeting of women…or to publicise the Act; but then, on arrival in office in 2010, George Osterity put his heart and soul into the problem – he upped the age to 66, starting in the post 2015 Parliament…and then said sorry, we can’t wait, it’s now 2011.
Although Ministers from both major Parties have lied consistently about it, no SPA victims were informed about the changes until 2010 at the earliest. This meant that for almost all the victims, they were told to wait six years with two years notice.
If you like, that’s the narrative. But there are higher issues to this legislative calumny – issues that stretch across accountability, fairness, legality and future policy. They are as follows:
- Even if we start at 1995, 42 years into a 60 year period – after giving a solemn promise to all female citizens that the SPA was 60 – the government Establishment decided to change that. By that stage, many of the victims had already paid 25 years of NI contributions.
- The same self-styled ‘élite’ then did nothing in their power to publicise the change, or write to those affected. George Osborne, his underlings and successors extended the waiting period for women, and then said “it’s no use complaining, because the money’s all gone”. The chap who said that then took up amateur sexting, and has been mercifully silent ever since.
- Since attaining the highest office in the land, Theresa Maybe has fobbed off every PMQ enquiry with talk of there already being “transitional arrangements”. The week before last she said she would not guarantee any pension levels or rules after 2020.
Now while I except that private pension sector pedants with everything to gain from the demise of State Pension provision insist on saying there was no contract and there is no fund as such (correct) the rest of us do – I would hope – still have other ethical problems with the post 1995 disaster as it has unravelled over the last two decades.
First, this is a pension construct that took money off subscribers, and is now retaining it. That is a fraud and an embezzlement….and “no money left” simply doesn’t apply as an excuse. The sum of some £30 billion required to rectify the crime is roughly 7% of what every one of the last five Westminster administrations has either wasted through poor management or lost through unsound decisions.
Second, the money all being gone – and most of the liars now retired or dead – still doesn’t answer a very simple question: where is the accountability here? Why, for instance, do the DWP civil servants facing Waspi across the table have pensions (equally unfunded) on average seventeen times the size of SPs for women?
Third, the money has not “all gone”. If it had, Britain would now be paying 23% yields on all gilts, not the 0.5% decreed by Mark Carnage. Not only is that excuse another lie, it’s not even true of the Spate Pension current account itself – where there is, leakers suggest, a surplus of around £24.5 billion. This too, Imelda Maycos is refusing to comment about.
And finally, this Government’s refusal to budge on the issue is hugely suggestive of an agenda for the future. What we’re seeing here is a sort of Guernica of pensions: let’s bomb an easy target and see if anyone cares. The answer now (as in 1937) is “nobody cares because it’s a long way away and doesn’t affect me”.
But it does, because Mother Theresa won’t give any guarantees beyond three years from now about anyone’s pension age or entitlement. It matters because a governing establishment with long term fairness and provision in mind wouldn’t have chosen to victimise existing payees: it would have decreed that, for everyone born during or after 1995, the SPA would be, say, 70 for both sexes. That would’ve offered sustainability: but this Government is keen to abolish, not sustain.
And it matters because, during Whitehall discussions on strategy after Osborne took over at the Treasury, his political advisors informed the Sir Humphreys that they wanted to change the name ‘National Insurance’ to ‘Earnings Tax’ – thus enabling the Government thereafter to ignore the undertakings of the original 1911 National Insurance Act. Indeed, I read the first news of this in the Daily Telegraph of February 2014. But then it all went quiet: it went quiet because by this stage, the full enormity of the post 1995 information cover-up was becoming clear. Treasury officials (not DWP) advised the Chancellor to drop the idea.
It’s an appalling business, and I’m sad that most people reading this – The Slog’s regulars plus others seeing the Waspi hashtags – are already aware not just of how profoundly guilty both Parties are for the outcome, but how cynically they choose to exploit the lack of broadscale interest in it.
It is not enough to blame the media for this situation; nor is there much point any more in having a crack at some frankly abysmal PR handling by the Waspi founders over time. What’s done is done: what concerns me now is what happens when Mrs May’s will has been done.
I don’t often ask this, but there’s no apology on offer for doing so now. If you’ve read this piece, and buy into the unacceptability of government duty dereliction to citizens, I would ask you please to forward, tweet or Facebook reference it to people who are not over 55 females, but rather, decent human beings who have no awareness at all of what’s been done….and what is almost certainly heading their way.
* Much as I would dearly love to give you the ratings for BBC Parliament, such data are, it seems, a State secret. Observe thus stunningly idiotic reply to an FOI request made about it in 2010:
If they don’t want you to know folks, you ain’t gonna find out.