Join the discussions – feel free to comment below each post.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

How do we bridge the Generation Gap?

If you believe some media commentators and politicians the 'Generational Divide' is the most corrosive issue in our society. They say wealthy Baby Boomer pensioners have swallowed up all the wealth whist younger generations struggle with student debts, lowly paid jobs and inadequate housing.

The media often characterises pensioners as playing golf on lush courses or enjoying luxury cruises without a care in the world. I find it strange I don’t know one such person. However I do know older people who struggle with their health either through age, disability, loneliness, isolation and of course poverty. I also know young people who worry about their education and whether they or their family can afford it. I know many more who struggle to find a decent job with reasonable working conditions and pay and who are exploited by employers without an effective regulatory system to safeguard their rights and many without a union to fight for them.

With all this in mind it is heartening to see a more constructive analysis of the issues that can and should be tackled. It is also of interest how uniting across our generations might start to challenge the real inequality in our society between the vested interests a rich, powerful global elite, its hangers on and the rest of us. It is worth taking a moment to read the article here, and why not share your views in the comments box below this post?

Eddie Spence
ARMS National Vice Chair

Friday, 1 September 2017

DWP blunder - office repossessed

Workers arriving at Bridge House Jobcentre in Blyth near Newcastle on 30 August were confronted with a bailiff's notice on the front door. The landlord of the site, contracted to Telereal Trillum as part of the DWP jobcentre network, has posted the notice to advise that bailiffs can enter and "repossess" the building.

The department had originally planned to close Bridge House, but reconsidered its decision on 10 August. This incident with the bailiffs has simply created more confusion for the 27 workers at the site. The embarrassment comes as the DWP plan to push ahead with their plans to close dozens of jobcentres across UK, a decision which will jeopardise local economies and service delivery.

A PCS spokesperson said: "This is the latest gaffe for the DWP and again shows that they are out of touch with what's happening on the ground. They don't know the needs of the workers, service users, or of the local community. Workers are growing increasing concerned and confused about the future of their role. This is no way to treat anyone. How can the department be trusted to push ahead with their radical programme of office closures when they can't even pay the bills on time?"

PCS has called yet again on Department for Work and Pensions management to halt its planned Jobcentre closure plan, after this blunder. It would be comical except that real jobs and real clients are affected.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A woman in your 60s affected by changes in retirement age?

Women aged between 60 and 62 are an average of £32 a week worse off due to changes in the state pension age. The Guardian Newspaper would like to find out how this affects you.

Women in their early 60s have lost an average of £32 a week from changes in the retirement age, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported today.

The increase in the age that women can receive their state pension has lowered the income of more than a million women, according to the IFS study, while the government has saved £5.1bn a year.

Many women are working for longer as a result of the changes and some are now facing hardship after many years of work and paying National Insurance Contributions with the expectation of an earlier State Pension, an expectation which will bring the state pension age to an equal level - 65 - for men and women by November 2018, before rising to 66 by October 2020.

PCS ARMs is supporting the 'WASPI Campaign' to address this injustice but we need to keep it in the public eye and expose what the Government has done and their refusal to properly address this injustice. You can help by telling your story or letting a family member, friend or neighbour know about this continuing campaign.

Are you a woman aged between 60 and 62 affected by the changes? Are you struggling financially? Have you decided to work for longer? How has this affected your life?
Share your experiences:

The Guardian Newspaper would like to hear from women in their early 60s affected by the change in state pension age. If you would like to share your experience, please fill in the form at this link, anonymously if you prefer. The Guardian will feature some of your responses in their reporting.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Third legal defeat for Government in a fortnight

From a PCS press release 4 August 2017:

(Note: this may affect ARMS members who left work after the changes were imposed)

Unlawful cuts to civil service redundancy pay have been quashed by the High Court in the third major legal defeat for the government in just over a week, the Public and Commercial Services union says. Judges also refused the government’s request to appeal and ordered it to pay the union’s costs, including an immediate £40,000 as an "interim payment". It opens the door for civil servants made redundant under the new terms imposed in November to claim compensation after being left thousands of pounds worse off.

The order comes just over a week after Unison won major victories in the courts over employment tribunal fees and the need for employers to properly consult when making major changes in the workplace.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "This is a great win for us and all civil servants, and another humiliating defeat for the government that treated its workforce with contempt by excluding us from talks. In trying to fix the terms of the negotiations the government only succeeded in showing itself to be weak, vulnerable and afraid of serious discussion. The judgement proves how important it is to belong to a trade union that is prepared to fight back."

Background:

The court ruled last month the Tories’ latest cuts to the terms of the civil service compensation scheme - which governs voluntary and compulsory redundancy pay - were unlawful because the Cabinet Office excluded the union from negotiations.

Lord Justice Sales and Mrs Justice Whipple ruled former Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer - who lost his seat at the general election - failed in his legal "duty to consult with a view to reaching agreement" by excluding PCS from more than a dozen meetings attended by most of the smaller unions.

In a letter to the unions in June, a senior Cabinet Office official wrote:

"I want to be clear that attendance at any further discussions will be taken as a clear commitment that those unions engaging in the talks have accepted that the proposal above will form the basis of a reformed, negotiated, set of arrangements that their relevant executives can recommend acceptance to their members in any ballot."

The judgement stated: "There was no basis on which the Minister was entitled to exclude the PCSU from the consultation. It cannot be said that it is highly likely that the outcome would not have been affected if the PCSU had been allowed to participate in the second round of discussions, as it should have been."

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Justice for sale - again

Hot on the heels of their defeat in the Supreme Court over fees for Employment Tribunals, the Government has surreptitiously published proposals for another way to rake in profits from our justice system by sneaking out plans during MPs' excessive summer holidays for a controversial privatisation.

The Ministry of Justice has announced today (1 August) it wants to outsource the collection of courts fines currently done by almost 150 civil servants. Two years ago an attempt to privatise all enforcement work was abandoned and a Freedom of Information request by our union revealed the five-year project cost taxpayers £8 million.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service civilian enforcement officers, who are subject to the civil service code governing standards of behaviour, have the authority to search premises and place defaulters in custody, and can access sensitive data held on government systems, including the Police National Computer. The code would not apply to staff working for private companies motivated by profit, and we share the concerns raised by Citizens Advice and other debt advice agencies earlier this year about the need for substantial reform to protect vulnerable people from rogue bailiffs.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The last time ministers tried to do something similar it ended up costing taxpayers £8 million before being abandoned, now they’re trying to avoid scrutiny by sneaking it out during the summer holiday. This work is highly sensitive and should remain in-house instead of being handed to private bailiffs whose motive is profit."

Most info from PCS website

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Overpaid public sector workers?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s statements about overpaid public sector workers may well be fading into the middle distance but they are true reflection of what the Tories really think. Not just do they deploy their age old tactic of divide and rule seeking to set private sector workers against public sector workers and young against old, they warn that doing anything other than following their dogma driven policies will lead to disaster.

It is useful to remember what Hammond said in a response to a question from Andrew Marr, which was: "When you take into account the very generous contributions that public sector employers have to pay in to their very generous pensions it is a simple fact: relative to private sector workers, they are paid a 10% premium."

The average pension of public sector workers is no more than £6,500 per annum. Many workers in the public sector are on poverty pay. The vast majority currently working along with those who have already retired will never receive the 'New State Pension' or anything close to it as the legislation debars those people who contracted out of SERPS.

Latterly millions of workers in their 30s and 40s in both public and private sectors have been told they will have to wait a year longer and lose up to £10,000 of whatever State Pension they will receive. Again we are told that to do anything else would lead to disaster. Little wonder in responding to the announcement that Labours Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams accused the Government of forcing "millions of people to work longer to pay for their failing austerity plans".

It is not just that Hammond is a hypocrite with a £9 million fortune and a Chancellor's pensionable salary of £134,000 a year. It is the fact that he is just plain wrong.

Many members of the public have written to try and correct Hammond’s misguided assertions and you can see some of the comments at this link.

It will be interesting to know what your thoughts are on this issue? You can join this debate and share any comments you have on this posting by clicking on the link to "comments" below.

Eddie Spence
ARMs

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Elder abuse is a hate crime

Figures released on UN World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 14 June showed that just 0.7% of all crimes against older people in the UK end in a conviction. The charity, Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) said the figures pointed to clear institutional ageism, with too many crimes being seen as a social problem instead of a criminal one. Gary Fitzgerald, AEA Director said: "Commit a crime against someone because of their age and you will probably get little more than a slap on the wrist. This needs to change and the impact of the crime can in some instances lead to admission into care or even death. This needs to be recognised in law as a hate crime," he added.

BBC research has also shown that more than 23,000 allegations of abuse have been made against carers working in people's homes across the UK in the last two years. Official figures recently revealed that up to 11,000 care home residents were not being properly fed, or left without food and drink. Older people are also often actively harmed, often by those who are meant to be caring for them or are increasingly targeted by those who are behind financial scams. For every instance of financial abuse that comes to light, 24 cases are thought to go unreported. Visit the Elder Abuse website here.

Info from the NPC's July Bulletin - borrowed with thanks.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Myth of 'something for nothing' pensioners

Pensioners are reported to be paying almost a third of their income in tax, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics. The bill is made up of direct taxes which includes income tax and council tax, costing an average £3,050, and indirect taxes which include VAT, insurance premium tax and vehicle excise duty which cost an average of £4,360.

Dot Gibson, Deputy General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) said: "All pensioners pay indirect taxes and around half still pay income tax, so when some in the media argue that older people are somehow getting something for nothing - it’s complete nonsense." 

As well as paying tax, the older generation also contributes in excess of £40bn every year more than the cost of pensions and benefits through volunteering and unpaid caring.

Info from the NPC's July Bulletin - borrowed with thanks.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

STOP the new plans to dismantle our NHS

This post gives important information about these plans, info that the government is not keen to publicise. If you oppose them please sign this petition - here.

The Naylor Review, published in March 2017, laid out a new NHS Estates strategy to get rid of "surplus" NHS property. It is a con trick designed to turn public property into private wealth. Not content to just 'sell' the land and buildings, which might mean they go to Co-operatives or other socally aware groups or developers, Project Phoenix proposes a 'fire sale' via Public Private Partnerships.

Six regional Public Private Partnerships will be created to sell off “ surplus” NHS assets. Tenders for the partnerships are expected to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union this summer and the Public Private Partnerships will probably go live later in 2017. "Surplus" NHS land and buildings could be sold to developers wanting to build homes, or to the private sector to be improved and then leased to local health services.The profit from sales will probably be shared between the NHS and the private partners.

Channelling public money into Public Private Partnerships comes at a big cost. It means the state doesn't have to finance and pay capital costs upfront - but we know from the disastrous Private Finance Initiative history that these projects end up costing much much more than publicly financed projects, because of ruinous interest and facilities management costs. We also know that they compromise safety and usability standards during the construction stage, because profit is put ahead of everything else.

Government decided to cut public spending, but Hospital Trusts need money to implement the STP changes. A report to NHS England’s 15.12.16 board meeting said:
"Capital is very tight over the next few years; STPs' requests exceed what is available."
The report also said NHS England and NHS Improvement would review all STP capital requests and that funding would be available for:
"strategic schemes that are essential for unlocking local improvements and efficiencies".
A BMA report confirmed that 36 of the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans between them required £9.5bn of capital funding but there is nothing like that money available. The 44 STP footprints between them need to 'save' £22 billion by 2020. Less than a quarter of local politicians believe that major NHS plans to reshape local health and care services will succeed, So why, we ask are they not challenging the proposals through the Joint Scrutiny Committees?

Please help us stop the STPs. Share the petition with friends or family or share on Facebook or twitter. The petition's website address is: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/stopNHSattacks.

For more information about the land sale, click here.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Tory Government continues to use Social Care as a political football

Apparently having learned nothing from their car crash of an Election Manifesto the Tories now have a new plan to improve social care.

After reducing funding on social care by £4.6 Billion since 2010 particularly through the cuts in Local Authority Budgets, the new plan is to get the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to inspect the failing and underfunded social care system. If the arrangements are found to be unsatisfactory the Government can impose a financial penalty on the relevant Local Authority rather than allow it to access funding from the Governments ‘Better Care Fund’ into which they have invested £2billion – just £2.6Billion short of the money they have taken out of social care funding.

This approach is being championed by none other than NHS saviour Jeremy Hunt. ‘Simples’ the answer was staring us in the face all along? Even Tory cheerleader the Daily Telegraph is struggling to get its head around this latest panic measure - read more here.

Eddie Spence
ARMS

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Government policy on housing disastrous

'Tory Housing policy disastrous' says the National Housing Federation along with their backdoor bedroom tax on pensioners reported in a recent issue of the ARMs Newsletter 'Up in ARMs'. The Independent recently reported that:
"From April 2019, housing benefit in all social housing will be capped at the level of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), used in the private rented sector.
"Crucially, the LHA is calculated – like the removal of the 'spare-room subsidy' – on the basis of household size, rather than the size of the property.
"That means a single person, or a couple, living in a two-bedroom home will have their housing benefit capped at the one-bedroom LHA rate.
"The impact will be severe across the Midlands and the North, where lower private rents will mean a lower one-bedroom LHA rate, threatening tenants with huge benefit cuts."
Full article here.

Housing Associations are reluctant to commission the building of new houses because their income from rent is under threat. The consequence of a doctrinaire decision by the Tories, little noticed at the time, will almost certainly deepen the social housing crisis even further. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

People in their 30s and 40s and 50s will be hardest hit by Tory state pension cuts!

Protecting all generations of pensioners
- including today's young people
The Tories are preparing to hit the future incomes of those currently in their 30s and 40s and fail to meet the statutory deadline for responding on State Pension plans.

The main conclusions of the Review into state pension retirement age recently carried out by ex-CBI chief John Cridland was to end the state pension Triple Lock and accelerate the increase in the state pension retirement age. The Government was legally required to respond to the Review by 7th May 2017. They have failed to meet that statutory responsibility.

The TUC responded to the Cridland plans as follows:
  • The TUC opposes Cridland's proposed accelerated increase in the state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039. Under the 2007 Pensions Act this was pencilled in for 2044 to 2046. Substantial inequalities in life expectancy and, particularly, healthy life expectancy mean this policy will hit the poorest hardest. 
  • The TUC does not support the downgrading of the triple lock that currently governs rises in the level of the state pension in favour of an earnings link. The triple lock has been gradually bringing the state pension back up to a reasonable level. And its work is not done. The greatest potential beneficiaries of this policy are today’s young workers. There doesn't need to be a trade-off between pension age and the level of the state pension. 
The TUC view is that both these measures would, in practice, hit the future incomes of those currently in their 30s and 40s. This Generation X is already the worst placed of the generations in terms of workplace saving. And the poorest of this generation would be affected the most. For they are the least likely to be able to work into later life or have the substantial savings needed to cushion retirement ahead of state pension age.

In considering other input into the Review it was noted that Government Actuaries had projected 'viable future increases in retirement age to 69 and 70 by 2055'. This had not been included in the Review Report and the Government have refused to comment. However people need to 'watch this space'. The Tories see the state pension as a source of further 'savings' above and beyond the £8 billion clawed back in the value of state pensions since 2010. Doubtless this then allows them to further reduce taxes for their backers such as through further Inheritance Tax cuts that benefit the wealth.

Eddie Spence
ARMS Vice Chair