Simon Read: Pensions bill gives a chance of justice for the OAPs overseas
More than half a million British pensioners who live abroad will turn their attention back home on Tuesday. That's because the new Pensions Bill reaches its report stage in the House of Commons, and there are hopes that expats will finally get parity and see the contentious Clause 20 removed. The clause continues a long-standing anomaly whereby Britons who live in certain countries have their state pensions frozen, while those who live in other countries enjoy annual increases.
Does that sound fair? Putting it plainly, why should half of the 1.2 million pensioners living abroad who qualify for the state pension get more than the other half? That's blatantly unfair. Specifically, those who have retired to the European Union or more than 20 other countries – including the US and Mauritius – enjoy annual increases in their state pension payments. But anyone who has moved to Australia, South Africa, Canada or one of 100 other nations has their pension frozen at the rate it was paid when they left the UK.
For example, a man retiring at 65 in 1986 would have received a state pension of £38.70. If he emigrated to Canada he would still be getting the same £38.70. But if he had moved just a few miles across the border to the US, he would now be getting £110.15, the same amount as UK-based pensioners receive. "It is completely irrational to pay any pensioners differently from the rest," pointed out Clive Walford, who lives in Bali in Indonesia. It's difficult to disagree with Mr Walford, who has written this week to a number of MPs to encourage them to fight to have Clause 20 removed from the Pensions Bill.
He has urged them to support an amendment to the Bill tabled by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley and Sir Roger Gale that asks that the clause be scrapped.
"The Pensions Bill is intended to make lawful the continuation of the unintended, purposeless discrimination against those British overseas pensioners denied normal state pension increases given to equivalent pensioners living in the EU and other countries," said Sir Peter, the Conservative MP for Worthing West. "As a government, we commit ourselves to equality and fairness, but this is not fair and it is not equal to those people."
Will the 560,000 or so disadvantaged overseas pensioners finally see justice on Tuesday? It seems unlikely, especially as the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, recently told a pensions working party committee: "It has been like that for decades and decades and decades, so we will not change it."
If the amendment is not a success, the battle for parity will continue. Follow the pensioners' campaign at pensionjustice.org
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