Since The Slog’s post of last Thursday, the usual SPA reform apologists have crawled out from under their stones. This column now presents further inexplicable oddities in élite behaviours since 1995, unacceptable delays in communication, skewed DWP research, and the motives behind unforgivable insults aimed at 1950s born British women.
I’ve been writing, researching and opining on the SPA changes for women (first enacted in the 1995 Pensions Act) for so long now, I have learned to be ultra-cautious about every last contention. There are two key reasons for this:
- Successive governments and their heirs are all so keen to escape blame for this long-running calumny, they will introduce any and all possible arguments – however incredible – to “show” that 1950s-born women were ‘given every opportunity’ to know about the changes about to hit them….44 years into a 60 State-bankrolled pension scheme. Further, their allies in the financial press and private pension sector persist in suggesting that Waspi/2020 victims were not traditional mid 20th century mothers at all, but wannabe actuaries scanning the financial columns of the quality press while eagerly diving into the daily order papers of the Westminster Parliament.
- It has become abundantly clear since 2010 that, as with all other aspects of the social weal, the prevailing view in Westminster and Whitehall is that the greater mass of the population is going to be handed over to the private health and age insurances sectors sooner or later. The idea of a mass population that’s been suffering massive real earnings losses since the 1995 Act somehow finding the money to fund such a change is beyond satire, empirical analysis or any sane insight; but that reality is secondary to the truly vast amounts of money to be made by private sector providers and advisers. Everything one writes is scrutinised by these bottom-feeders, with a view to providing enough misleading assertions and insults to sow doubt in the minds of the neutrals. Their hands are far from clean in pursuing his dishonest process.
So my purpose in this follow-up to yesterday’s piece at The Slog is really threefold:
- To disprove once and for all that the political class really “had no alternative” but to introduce the 1995 Pensions Act
- To demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that one government after another has attempted (with Whitehall’s connivance) to keep the dramatic changes involved low profile, complex, and open to conjecture….and in doing so, to demolish the idea that government “did everything it could” to warn those women affected by them.
- To reveal anti-Waspi/2020 propaganda for what it is: the cynical use of social and Establishment media by those with an undeclared interest in making a killing at the expense of citizens who can ill afford the crippling fees they will charge….but now have no choice in the matter.
I am not going to delve any more into the disgraceful motives behind later “revisions” to both the 1995 Act and the 2004 Pensions Information ‘Quick Guide’ pamphlet, and the signing off of the 2013 Coalition’s perversion of actuarial calculations by Liberal Democrat Minister for Pensions Steve Webb: I covered that thoroughly in yesterday’s piece….so if you are new to this, rather than bore existing readers, I would ask you to follow the link above. Instead, I propose – with the use of new revelations and reference to The Slog’s back catalogue – to demolish the “objective good faith” nonsense perpetrated by the history-changing spinners with unadvertised agendas.
Why did we need the 1995 Act?
The headline on this one is “Because vote-centric politicians were incompetent in the way they chose to fund the State Pension bill, incontinent with taxpayers’ money, and persistently ignored the demographic time-bomb that was obvious to most sociologists from 1955 onwards”.
The spurious use of the Latin adage caveat emptor simply will not wash in that context: the Whiteminster approach to SPs was amateur night at best, and an illusionist’s electoral trick at worst. We must ask: why was no National Pension Fund set up? Why was the waste so obvious and yet so unaccountable? Why was the Baby Boom data ignored? Why are the Whitehall State pensions equally unfunded and seven times the future UK liabilities of 1950s women? And above all, why should the ordinary citizen pensioners concerned now be asked to go without, after others squandered their inheritance?
I refer readers to the following archived Slogposts on these subjects:
Should ordinary traditional women have seen the SPA changes coming?
Right from the off with the 1995 Act, the approach taken by the relevant authorities was odd in the extreme. Let us start with the text of the Act itself. Imagine you are introducing a Bill to Parliament with the express purpose of physically protecting the Royal family from assassination by the CIA. Would you spend the first 126 pages of a 200-page draft outlining new rules for increased regulation of what Prince Philip has to say on various subjects, and the control of knife ownership?
I submit that you wouldn’t: first of all because the Duke of Edinburgh is 97 years old, and secondly because the CIA’s choice of weapons for killing heads of State has rarely if ever involved knives: telescopic lens rifles and exploding cigars fine, but not knives.
Yet this is precisely what the 1995 Pensions Act did. The opening 63% of the Act’s sections dealt with things that have little to do with the main event – viz: the first ever and massively controversial decision of the Major government to welch on a promise made by the British State to female pensioners in 1947.
The key sections begin at 126, and end after section 134. Just 4% of the total text content of the Act, buried halfway through a veritably impenetrable stream of legalese.
In that tiny extract, we read this:
Note the absence of the following from this Section 126:
- What the age equalisation was going to be
- What “progressively” meant
- Why anyone who began paying in between the years 1967-1975 would imagine they’d have to wait anything from 2-6 years on reaching the age of 60….at which age – they had been solemnly promised – their payout part of paying in would begin.
Such is the qualitatively obvious. But in pagination terms alone, mainstream SPA for women takes up a grand total of 25% of an Act whose primary purpose was to add five years to the waiting period for 1950s born UK females.
In yesterday’s piece, I dealt at length with the obfuscation delivered by references to “phased equalisation from 2017 onwards” during 2007 and 2013 documentation – none of which appeared in the 1995 Act. But this piece from the archives offers evidence of political mendacity during 2009 that blows any idea of a genuine attempt to tell the truth sky-high:
I will restrict myself to this one sociopathic promise from Chancellor-in-Waiting George Osborne recorded in that post, from his speech to the 2009 Conservative Party Conference:
“No-one who’s a pensioner today, or approaching retirement soon, will be affected”
As Josef Goebbels once remarked, “If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one”.
Now let us turn to the New Labour government’s “extensive communications programme” to explain to 50s born women why they were being screwed, and how the Blairites did precisely nothing about it for the first two terms……on the grounds that Things Could Only Get Better.
This was the DWP’s claim at the time:
‘Since December 2004 and continuing into 2006, the Department for Work and
Pensions (DWP) has sent over ten million Automatic State Pension Forecasts (APFs)
to people aged between 20 and 64 years’
This is a classic piece of Whiteminster hogwash, and omits to mention the following:
- All those aged 20-45 are extremely unlikely to react to junk mail apparently aimed at those they would regard as “old people”. In the old days, a 2% take-up from such mailings was considered good
- The State Pension Forecasts were in the now infamous 264943 pamphlet which, as we have already seen, gave extremely misleading information as to when the changes were likely to take effect
- The idea that ordinary citizens with busy lives would take more notice of an almost anonymous Act of Parliament from nine years previously is simply ridiculous
- Much of the communication monies were spent putting up notices in environments where one would least expect sixty-something traditional wives to be….for example, Job Centres.
- We have to ask the obvious question: if Blair and Brown had wanted to maximise awareness of the coming Damoclese Sword being thrust into State pension provision, why did they wait seven years before doing anything?
If one was setting out to raise awareness in the prime target group, the money would’ve been better spent focused upon the 51-59 age group, not 21-64. One has to conclude there was an almost wilful stupidity in play. We should get real here: if government had been dispensing good news, double-page ads in the press and television commercials would’ve been the order of the day.
This cannot be dismissed as cynicism: it’s the reaction of a seasoned commentator who has seen (like so many of us) the desperation of all elected politicians to be the bearer of nothing but good news…..and if such isn’t available, to spin ill tidings until they look like comfort and joy.
But as always with civil servants, if under duress, they were keen to create “evidence” that they had done everything possible to carry out the alleged wishes of politicians. And this leads us into the murky history of how Whitehall decided to show political and media élites the apparent effectiveness of communications “designed” to inform 1950s-born traditional mums about the abrogation of their State pension rights.
In 2005, the DWP hired market research agency IFF, an organisation well-versed in the business of dealing with UK government departments. IFF’s task was to assess the degree of success achieved by the Government in communicating the ramifications of the 1995 Pensions Act.
As the main losers were going to be women (male retirement age remaining exactly the same) it would’ve made sense to focus on that group. But the DWP chose not to do that. Instead, the study was based on the ACORN system. ACORN is an acroynym that stands for A Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods, and owes little or nothing to the gender of the interviewee.
ACORN is a system designed to classify citizens more sensitively than the old ABC1C2DE demography had. It is still used today, and its owners CACI rightly regard it as a great improvement on the old A to E approach. In my communications career, I used it extensively on various projects.
But as with any such system, if the organisation commissioning the research project wants to prove a point, then ACORN as a selection tool is as open to perversion as any other.
Reading the IFF research report today, there is an odd anomaly in the sample they wound up with. It is described thus [my emphasis]:
‘Most (88 per cent) had some pension provision in addition to the State Pension and
just over half (54 per cent) were currently contributing to a pension. The majority
(81 per cent) had an occupational pension, while under one in three (29 per cent)
had a personal pension.’
This sample would instantly strike any researcher experienced in the financial services sector (a description I fit) as wildly upmarket and sophisticated compared to the national average. Take a look at this graph of pension participation over time in the UK:
In the 2006 period, only 56% of the population had any pension at all. And only 34% of us had an occupational pension. Significantly, the survey only looked at over 50s (while the “mailer” went out to 24-60s) and so this would raise pension provision versus the universe. But for 81% to have an occupational pension means the sample was heavily skewed to white collar clerical and professional respondents.
As that group is infinitely more diligent about (and has the disposable income for) pension provision, it is not surprising that they showed a relatively high awareness of the mailout. Let’s face it, if you send out a round robin properly to that group and then do research among them, you will get the best possible result.
If IFF achieved this sample by accident (and nobody in the DWP noticed it) then both organisations would stand accused of the most unforgivable oversights and incompetence.
But then, the Civil Service has always been in the business – when pinned in a corner – of showing Parliamentary watchdogs that they had done a good job. In fact, there are other clues in the research which suggest they had got some things badly wrong:
- ‘Women were more likely than men to have no pension provision other than State Pension’. In fact, twice as many women were without private policies compared to men. These are traditional households from over a decade ago already in their fifties: sorting out insurance and pensions would still have been largely a male preserve. Yet the DWP chose those women as the starting point for their full frontal attack on the State pension, knowing that men die younger than women. Why? One is forced to consider the likelihood that government chose what they thought would be the point of least resistance and sophistication. How wrong they were.
- To compare those who had and hadn’t received the mailer (a good idea) IFF recruited a control group of 1,000 people out of the total sample of 4,000. But here we find an extraordinary admission: ‘ a ‘control’ sample, compiled from those who were known not to have been sent a [pension] forecast for various clerical reasons such as uncertainty over their address and who were recorded as not having received any other type of pensions forecast (e.g. from their employer)’. Um, this is 2006, not 1995: they still hadn’t been contacted? Er, how many were there in total?
- In fact, the control v main body comparison was flawed anyway because ‘the control sample were more likely to be working and in full-time employment (30+
hours per week) than those in the APF sample. Almost four out of five (78 per cent)
of respondents in the control sample were working, 57 per cent full-time, compared
with 73 per cent and 53 per cent respectively for the APF sample. Respondents in the control sample were also more likely to have some pension provision beyond state provision and to have an occupational pension. Virtually all (96 per cent) had some pension provision beyond state, with 93 per cent having an occupational pension, compared with 85 per cent and 77 per cent respectively for the APF sample’. In short, the control was even more atypical than the main body.
The fact that the Bill was passed in 1995, Labour came to power in 1997, and then both the mailout and the research study pop up in 2006 is significant in other ways. Labour won again in 2001, and then in 2005. A Third Term government breeds idle hands among backbenchers, more likely to be Left Wing in this case. Senior Sir Humphreys never volunteer assessments of their performance: it seems possible that the research was in response to a PMQ addressed to the Government of Tony Blair, along the lines of “Would the Minister please come to this House and explain to honourable members what steps have been taken to explain pension harmonisation to those affected”.
This is not conspiracy theory, it’s a reflection of three decades of being a strategic comms supplier to government. In that time, almost all effectiveness research was done as a result of “awkward questions” being asked in Parliament. Once briefed to place some ads in Indian and Pakistani dialects among the UK ethnic press, I asked the senior civil servant what the objectives of the campaign were. “To attract no PMQs at all,” he replied, to the amusement of several underlings.
So if Waspi/2020 is perhaps the most outrageous attempt yet by neoliberal government to bully, lie, mislead and altogether screw seemingly defenceless people deep into the rockface of life, why does it seem to have so many pinched goblins like Frances Coppola lampooning them as ‘graspi’, or Steven Crabb alleging they have “breezed through life without thinking”?
Roman cynics frequently asked simply “Cui bono?” – who benefits? Enemies of these 1950s women can benefit in a depressing variety of ways:
- Competing causes miffed by the recent massive increase in public awareness of the anti-SPA Reform movement. This shouldn’t be underestimated: a key task for PR and image-management agencies or consultants hired by the swindled masses is to push their client further up the compensation queue. This probably explains the intervention yesterday of British Steel pensioners cheated by the sale of their employer….from one of their leaders, Stefan. Prolific tweeter Nic Millar may also come under this heading: she’s a consultant on professional pensions in general and displays a keen interest in…..the British Steel pensioners.
- Politically motivated Left desperate to explain why they never do bad and only other nasty people lie. I had one at The Slog late Thursday, and three others I banned for personal insults and bad language. Suzy Albright comes into this category (diehard Remainer, EU can do no wrong, who was Tony Blair anyway he wasn’t really Labour was he? etc etc). Being firmly politically unaligned, I probably attract a higher number of these Stalinist fluffies than most.
- Government-hired trolls ever-eager to tweet on behalf of every undeserving cause from Russophobia to the DWP. Very hard to spot because the ‘image management’ sociopaths who employ them have the anonimity blocks firmly taped. Occasionally, reading Twitter in relation to, say, the Salisbury poison incident can reveal the odd idiot working for more than one client under the same ID – Nina Schick is a classic example of this – but the whole area is very ethereal and impossible to measure.
- Those advising or working in the private pensions sector. This is by far the biggest element of blogs, media articles and Twitter jabs at SPA Injustice activists. They’re usually very easy to nail if one goes to LinkedIn or industry who’s who sites.
Most Waspi campaigners I know have become a lot more media-savvy over the last four years, but there is still a tendency among them to see Twitter as “our medium”. Twitter is a bearpit housing everyone from the antisocially deranged to those for whom the term “moral compass” has always been a mystery. It is a totally unaccountable medium, nowadays censored more and more by some kind of privy council inside the company. We live in a world where the value of freedom of speech is woefully underpriced and few if any opinion leaders balk at the opportunity to shut up The Resistance.
Whatever the SPA Reform apologists say, this case of the Might is Right crew bulldozing senior citizens into flat hedgehog impressions is in the Front Line of the War for Decency. It is a war against compulsion, rigidity, greed, hypocrisy and corporatism. Genuinely, in my view it is not a political or financial issue….it is a fight to the bitter end against those inadequate control freaks who would (and do) blame all their mistakes on the innocent – and demand that the citizen clear up the mess afterwards and pay for it.
Regardless of the goggle-eyed materialists keen to make a fast buck after 2025, the pension injustice movement has made great strides since 2020’s Back to 60 regiment strode onto the battlefield and fought for One Voice with Waspi. The best approach to trolls is not to engage in their silly game of pinhead angels, but to expose them for what they are: the human equivalent of Artificial Intelligence with a grubby agenda.