Simon Read: Pensions should be equal wherever people live

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The Independent Online

Last week I reported that the basic state pension is set to climb by 2.5 per cent in April. But the article prompted a reader to take me to task, and rightly so. Clive Walford, who lives in Indonesia, wrote to point that not all pensioners will benefit from the increase.

"Roughly half of the 1.1 million British pensioners living overseas do not get, and never have been given, the annual indexed annual pension increase since moving overseas," he points out.

Why is there such an anomaly? During their working lives, these estimated 550,000 people paid the same national insurance contributions, in order to entitle them to the state pension, as the 550,000 who are receiving annual increases in their pension. The answer? Because they live in the wrong country. It's a terrible injustice that leaves people living in Canada, for example, getting no increase while those in the States do.

Clive, who has campaigned about the inequality for years, explains: "The reason given by the pensions minister is that the increase is only paid where there is a legal agreement, such as with the EU, or where there is a reciprocal agreement with the other country."

The current pensions minister, Steve Webb, refuses to put things right because, to paraphrase some of his statements on the issue: it's been like that for decades and decades and decades, so we won't change it. But just because something has been wrong for a long time, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be put right.

Pensioners around the world are campaigning against the policy. Those affected in Australia and Canada have been campaigning for pension parity for many years, as have other groups in South Africa and Thailand. Many hundreds of others fight on as individuals.

"They are dedicated to campaigning for justice," Clive explains. "Clearly this is a policy that is wrong and the people, pensioners or workers in the UK should also fight for equality for all pensioners regardless of where they live."

I have sympathy with their arguments. Most were not told that their pensions would be frozen when they moved abroad and many are missing out on considerable amounts to which they should be entitled. Correcting the anomaly could be done simply by amending a regulation.

The Government should bear in mind that the half a million disadvantaged pensioners all have the right to vote. Maybe that thought will help focus MPs' minds on putting things right.

s.read@independent.co.uk

twitter: @simonnread

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