James Daley: A sad end, but pension fight continues

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The Independent Online

Dave Cheshire, one of the country's most resilient pension campaigners, sadly died this week, less than a year after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Having been one of about 80,000 people who lost all or part of their life savings in recent years after their employers went bust, Dave spent the final months and weeks of his life fighting to ensure that he, and the other victims of this atrocious scandal, received due compensation.

If you've not heard Dave's story before, it's definitely worth reading on. It epitomises the Government's callous, cold-hearted attitude to the plight of so many of its own hardworking, honest citizens.

After being urged by his employer, Dexion, to delay his retirement three years ago, Dave was still working when the company went bust in 2003. With no pensions safety-net established at the time, the company scheme had enough money to continue paying only those who were already retired. But for those who were yet to stop working, it became clear that they would miss out on almost all of their pension.

In spite of having agreed to continue working (ironically, on the premise that it would provide him with a better pension), Dave finally retired two years ago - after working and saving for 31 years - with nothing. A year later, he was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and told that he had only six months to live.

Although the Government has since established a "Financial Assistance Scheme" (FAS) to help those who have lost their pensions, the first payments from this have still not been made - and even when they finally do begin, the money put aside is woefully inadequate. Dave never lived to see a penny of the money, in spite of having retired two years ago.

Although there is some provision for surviving spouses, this is capped at only 50 per cent of their partner's pension. Dave's biggest concern in his final months was whether his wife would be compensated with an adequate pension once he was gone. Due to the discrimination against women in the current state system, she knows that she will not qualify for a full basic state pension, and still has no idea what - and when - she will receive from the FAS.

Although another Dave in the pensions world - the new Work and Pensions Secretary, David Blunkett - has been busy trying to put his stamp on the pensions debate over the past two months, he has done nothing since taking up his post to reassure the 80,000 victims of this scandal.

But given that it was the Government that told these workers their pensions were guaranteed, it is now surely its responsibility to compensate them in full.

While Blunkett's predecessor, Alan Johnson, and the former pensions minister Malcolm Wicks, took the first steps to trying to ensure that more money is made available, there is still much further to go. Dave Cheshire is the first of many who are likely to die before they receive a penny of the money they are due.

All hopes now lie with the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, who is in the final stages of compiling her own report into whether the Government should take responsibility for this scandal. With the evidence stacked firmly in the pensioners' favour, let's hope that when she finally publishes her assessment, she comes down on the Government with full force and orders that it stand by its promise that these pensions were guaranteed.

James Daley won the Best Consumer Broadsheet Journalist category at the British Insurance Brokers' Association Journalist of the Year awards on Wednesday


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