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.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

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

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

    Sales Executive

    £20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

    Payroll & Accounts Assistant

    £20 - 24k + Benefits: Guru Careers: This is a great opportunity for an enthusi...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week