The well-written and informative epistles by Frances Coppola, Henry Tapper, Joan Bakewell, Paul Lewis etc., remind me of the tale of the five blind men and the elephant:
“Five blind men stood in a ring around an elephant, and were asked to describe it. Each in turn reached out and touched the animal and declared it to be like a snake; rope; wall; tree and leaf”.
Individually, the blind men were all correct – in their own way. But whatever their perception of the elephant was, the fact remained that the poor beast was in danger of being killed by poachers.
Similarly, whatever each of the commentators’ version of the WASPI issue is, the indisputable fact remains that there will be victims of severe injustice and hardship. You could say that the “elephant in the room” is the fact that this situation should never have arisen in the first place as proper notice should have been given, and that we are only now reading and writing about it due to incompetence/negligence /laziness/arrogance by successive cabinets. (In fact, Steve Webb – former Pensions Minister – suggests the blame lies squarely with Labour; but then he would, wouldn’t he!).
WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) has a lot in common with the Ark Class Action (ACA) which I represent. ACA consists of hundreds of victims of pension scams – most of which operated some form of pension liberation fraud between 2010 and 2015. The schemes include Ark, Capita Oak, Westminster, Evergreen, London Quantum and dozens more. Most of the victims have not only lost their personal or occupational pensions (to worthless, toxic investments such as store pods, car parks, eucalyptus plantations and offshore property), but are also facing crippling tax penalties for “liberating” their pensions.
I am no expert on the WASPI matter. But I am impressed with the various eloquent accounts of the history of State Pension Equalisation and technicalities of how National Insurance contributions fund the State pension. However, I am up to speed on pension scams – and it is clear that both situations have exactly the same results: poverty, despair and injustice. The victims of pension scams were told that the Ark/Capita Oak/London Quantum etc. pension schemes they were transferring to were safe because they were registered by HMRC and the Pensions Regulator and were therefore “approved”. They were also told they could get “loans” from their pensions and that there would be no tax implications as these loans legally exploited legitimate tax loopholes. Many WASPI’s, on the other hand, were told nothing by the government – until it was too late to do anything to mitigate the unexpected extra six years they would have to exist without a State pension.
The government is effectively the trustee of the State Pension and should therefore abide by the same “fit for purpose” standards expected of all pension trustees. British citizens will simply not stand for the State Pension being run on “Ponzi” principles. What worries me is how many pension scam victims are in the WASPI boat – so are likely to drown not once; not twice; but three times at the hands of government incompetence.
What I find hardest to swallow is the claim by the government and various commentators that those affected should have known – or should have taken steps to find out – what their State Pension age was (in plenty of time). Maybe; maybe not. All I can say is that I didn’t know (born November 1954). I have never received any notification from the DWP. Funnily enough, I was at the offices of the DWP on 8th December with two Ark victims – so somebody could have mentioned it to me then (although Ros Altmann was rather too busy hiding and waiting for the security guard to usher us off the premises to say anything very much).
But irrespective of whether I (and all the others in the same boat) knew, should have known, should have checked, were given enough notice etc., the question remains unanswered:
“what are we going to live on for the next six years?”
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we did all know jolly well (and had plenty of notice) and now we are joining the WASPI campaign just for the sake of it (bored with knitting clubs): how are we going to eat/live? Some women might be able to work. Some might not for a variety of reasons including health or availability of suitable employment.
I know the argument has been put forward that the WASPI campaign is futile because there is “no money down the back of the sofa” to help victims through the transition period. So, what do we do? Go away quietly and starve? Perhaps Angela Merkel will take us in to save us from cardboard city under the railway arches.
Personally, I think it is all a bit of a shame. We are a significant generation which saw the transition from post-WW2 austerity to the re-building of our nation – to which we all contributed in our different ways. I was a child from an orphanage, lucky enough to be adopted by a father who never spoke about his years in the RN as an Asdic operator and a mother who never spoke about her years in West London as an ambulance driver. And I think I deserve better – as do all the WASPI’s.
I remain perplexed by Ros Altmann’s refusal to engage with the WASPI campaign (or the Ark Class Action – campaigning against pension scams). Is she really just a puppet in the hands of the silver-tongued Iain Duncan-Smith? Or is there a darker force at work? Altmann once marched in the streets in support of pensioners’ rights but is now refusing to acknowledge the injustice of the failure by government to give adequate notice of the change to State Pension age.
Whatever the rights, wrongs, technicalities and “elephantologies” of the WASPI situation are, this government in general – and Ros Altmann/Iain Duncan-Smith et al in particular – are likely to go down in history as the thieves and scoundrels who sold the elephants up the river. Steve Webb – Pensions Minister under the previous Coalition government – has pretty much admitted as much.
The WASPI campaign has collected an impressive 100,000 signatures on the petition to have the issue debated in the House of Commons in a very short period. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/110776
Indeed, Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, will be raising the matter on Thursday 7th January. The campaign has also succeeded in conducting very effective Facebook and Twitter campaigns and getting press coverage such as the Sunday Post’s one on 3rd January 2016:
So, back to the elephant in the room: remember when I handed evidence of multi billion pound pension scams to HMRC/government back in June 2014? And nobody (not HMRC; not the Pensions Regulator; not the government) did anything about it? And Police officers and Armed Forces personnel lost their Police and Army pensions to the scammers as a result? Well, I’ve got all the evidence as to where the scammers’ assets are (including one government consultant). So, with just a little effort from the government and HMRC, sufficient tax from serial tax evaders/pension scammers could be collected to facilitate an elegant transition for the WASPI’s without disturbing the sofa at all.
Chairman, Ark Class Action
WASPI is an action group that was formed by five ordinary women who are personally affected by the changes to the State Pension Age and wanted to do something to address this injustice. WASPI was set up in April 2015 to petition against pension legislation changes in the State Pension Law. Having raised £6,000 via Crowdjustice (the first litigation crowdfunding platform in the UK), in a matter of days WASPI are in the process of establishing if there is a legal case to challenge the Government in respect of little or no notification of the changes to the SPA in 1995 and 2011. https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/women-seeking-pension-justice/