EC directive on equality 'flouted': The Government is accused of discriminating against 50,000 women pensioners paid less in invalidity benefits than men. Ian MacKinnon reports

THE GOVERNMENT is flouting a European Community directive that demands equal treatment for the sexes, by discriminating against 50,000 women pensioners on invalidity benefit who are paid less than men of the same age.

Women reaching the age of 60 face a cut in benefits based on the level of their old age pension, while men receive the full amount up to their pensionable age of 65.

The Social Security Commission, an independent Crown body headed by a judge who rules on appeals and matters of principle, has declared Britain's stance on invalidity benefit discriminatory and urged equal treatment.

Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, and Whitehall officials decided to contest the commissioner's ruling in a case that is likely to be heard in the Court of Appeal before the end of the year.

The Government has circulated all social security offices instructing them to withhold the extra sums, but has indicated that it would pay out any arrears should the court reject its arguments.

However, the department's policy branch has conceded it might relent if the 'customer was terminally ill or if he, or she, was experiencing dire financial hardship'.

But a letter advising claimants of the present state of play is less generous. It states: 'If the Court of Appeal decides that the benefit should not be increased, you will continue to be entitled to the rate of benefit you are getting now, unless there are other changes which affect the rate. You do not have the right to appeal against this decision.'

Women who retire on health grounds before their 55th birthday, and men before their 60th, are entitled to a basic invalidity benefit plus another element.

It may be an invalidity allowance, or an additional component, fixed by the level of National Insurance contributions in the last tax year before they stopped work.

When the women reach statutory retirement age they become eligible for the standard old age pension, but alternatively may opt to continue receiving invalidity benefits instead.

If they choose the latter and were in receipt of the additional component, under existing regulations they will find this component withdrawn and replaced by the invalidity allowance, a smaller amount.

On the other hand, men on invalidity benefits will not reach retirement age until their 65th birthday and are able to continue claiming the additional component until then.

The discrimination results from the difference in retirement age between men and women, a discrepancy which the Government has already committed itself to equalising, though this may take many years.

The Department of Social Security maintains that the European directive on equal treatment for men and women allows for different pensionable ages, including additional benefits.

It was on that basis that it planned to contest the Social Security Commissioner's ruling that UK law is discriminatory.

Sally Witcher, a campaign worker for Disability Alliance, an umbrella group, attacked the Government's stance, accusing it of going to 'any lengths' to avoid making payments.

'They will fight this all the way and then if they lose they will find some other way of stopping it so that they don't have to backdate it,' she said.

'They have done this numerous times with social security benefits. It's not particularly surprising, but it's sad for the individuals who actually need the money.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'