Simon Read: What made the minister change his mind about the retired Britons with frozen pensions?


Regular readers will recall my articles about overseas pensioners and the anger felt by around half a million of them who have had their state pensions frozen.

Where people feel they are getting a raw deal, the controversy is a matter of geography – retire to the wrong country and your pension is frozen at the rate it was when you left Britain. So anyone moving to Canada, for instance, has their state payout frozen. Meanwhile those moving just over the border to the US enjoy annual increases just as if they'd stayed at home.

Many of you have written in with your views. Some feel that it's pensioners' own fault: they knew the situation before they left the UK and so shouldn't complain now. Others presume that the pension shortfall must be being made up in the countries that people have moved to.

On the latter point the answer is no, as far as I can find out. On the former point, I have been sent several emails by people who were not told by the Government that their pension would be frozen. They only actually discovered that this would happen when they didn't get their annual increase.

My view is that it's about fairness. All the pensioners involved paid their national insurance contributions during their working lives. Part of that money that they handed over to the Government would, they were led to believe, give them full rights to a state pension when they retired.

For the half a million or so pensioners who moved abroad to the "right" country, the state pension has been paid out as promised. For the other half million or so who unfortunately picked the "wrong" country, payouts have ended up being much smaller than they expected.

All they want is parity with their neighbours. I think they have a fair case so, when I met the pensions minister Steve Webb this week, I put it to him.

I was hopeful of a positive response as, when he was in opposition, the Liberal Democrat MP tried to insert a clause in the then Pensions Bill that would have abolished pension freezing.

At the time, 2004, he had said: "The purpose of the new clause is to provide that the pensions of those who now live overseas should be annually uprated, wherever they live.

"The moral claim rests on the fact that we have a contributory pension system. We ask people to make contributions all their life to accrue an entitlement. Why should that accrued entitlement vary according to where they choose to live?"

A decade later I trusted that he would be of similar mind. I was sadly mistaken. "It is a question of cost," he told me, adding, as if to shut me up: "We've fully debated the issue in Parliament."

When challenged on his earlier support for those with frozen pensions he blithely said: "Look, the fiscal position was different in 2004 than in 2014."

I don't know what has changed his mind. Mr Webb seems a decent person, but casting aside a cause he'd previously fought for looks like the act of a politician more concerned with his career than justice. Maybe he's got one eye on next year's election and wants to keep in with his coalition partners in the Tory party.

Or maybe the modern-day Sir Humphreys in the Department for Work and Pensions have made him believe that his role is to protect the public purse, rather than look after the public wellbeing.

Well, here's a warning to Mr Webb – and whoever takes over as the next pensions minister: this issue will not go away. Pensioners who feel badly let down by the British Government will continue to fight for their cause.

And with next year's election in mind, all politicians would do well to take note of a survey conducted this week by the International Consortium of British Pensioners. About 60 per cent of those asked agreed that pension freezing is not a good way to treat British nationals who have contributed to the economy by paying taxes and national insurance for a number of years.

And, crucially, nearly half those polled said they would vote for a political party with plans to unfreeze the pensions. You have been given fair warning, Mr Webb.

Twitter: @simonnread

Independent Partners: 10 top tips for retirement. Get your free guide here

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk