Recent issues and top stories

Listed below is a list of leader stories in our newsletter. Click on the relevant topic to go to the appropriate topic.

A government for the good of all the people

Hate crime: the rising menace

Let us make our voices heard in 2017

Brexit kerfuffle starts pensions panic

We’re all being fleeced - both old and young

Fight to save prescriptions

Hillsborough: Are there lessons for the Forum?

Time to battle for a better deal for Enfield

Biggest pension rise for 15 years

Social problems facing us in 2016

Dividing the generations is dangerous

Enfield needs community participation

Public Health deserves fair funding

Where should enfield cut the costs

Make 2015 a year to remember

What’s my crystal ball saying?

Over 50s - Time to start a second life

NHS crisis looms for all ages

Can we be trusted with our pension pots?

We fight for fairness

Hands off universal benefits

2014 - Time to start the fight back

Support our petition and show the NHS belongs to the people

Help us to secure the “triple lock” for pensioners of the future

Live longer with more years of good health

NHS Shake-up starts to bite

Get healthy, stay healthy, live longer

The case for universal benefits

Loneliness the hidden threat to good health

Hands off pensioners’ benefits  

Don’t blame us for living longer– we’re putting more into Britain than we take out!  

Hurrah for the centenarians!  

NHS faces 2012 funding fiasco

Pensions: Government moves the goalposts

Millions more to face fuel poverty

Decent Pensions for all

June 2017

A government for the good of all the people

Our constitution states quite clearly that we are a non-party political group and recognised as such by the Charities Commission. It means we are not beholden to or linked with any one political party.

But we are free to comment and indeed campaign on political matters that impact on elderly people, such as pensions, universal benefits etc because these are matters in which politicians and government are the decision-makers.

In the 18 or more years that I have been involved with the Forum, I have consistently ensured our independence from all political parties, while at the same time seeking the support of their representatives where and when it helped us.

So our three Enfield MPs, representing the Conservative and Labour parties have all supported our Fairer Funding for Enfield petition. They have each informed the Enfield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group of their concern with the so-called Adherence to Evidence-based Medicine, which the Forum considers to be detrimental to ALL Enfield residents and a smokescreen for cuts in NHS services.

This is the first time that publication of our newsletter is appearing on the eve of a most important General Election on June 8. We have members of all political parties and of none and we obviously refrain from advising anyone how to cast their vote.

The Forum executive, however, strongly urges everyone to use their influence with friends, neighbours and relatives to vote not just in the interests of our generation, but for future generations who will live with the consequences of this momentous election.

Writing before the various party manifestos are issued, as I see it this election is not just about the rocky road to Brexit and the complex, quite unknown, result of leaving the European Union.

“Government can and should be a force for good,” says Theresa May. “The state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot…..we should employ the power of government for the good of the people.” (6 October 2016)

So, with these fine words in mind I ask myself what is good government?

Good Government should be about the adequate funding of the financially starved NHS. It should be about ending the constant kicking into the long grass of any plan to deal with the growing numbers of elderly people needing social care, often suffering from incurable illnesses, living after decades spent in retirement that was never anticipated.

Remember the Dilnot Commission set up in 2010 which took years to come up with a plan for a £76,000 lifetime cap on care costs after which time the state would pay?  Under the 2014 Care Act it was supposed to be in place by 2016 with the personal cap reduced to £72,000. Then it was delayed until 2020.

But on 8 March 2017, Chancellor Philip Hammond, announced that “shortly” the government would be launching another new Green Paper for consultation outlining new options for the long-term funding of social care.

Since then, the General Election has been called so we are back to square one waiting to see how the next government intends to tackle the long-term funding of a social care service.

Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services – of which our own Ray James is a former president – says there’ll be a £4.3 billion funding gap for social care by 2020 and about 500,000 elderly people are no longer getting the care and support they need from cash-starved local councils.

Good Government should be about immediately ending the stupid arrangement whereby the NHS is administered by the Department of Health while another Ministry – the Department for Communities and Local Government – is responsible for Social Care. Surely it is time that heads were banged together so we had one budget to operate an integrated health and social care system for the 21st century.

Good Government should be about adequate funding for schooling our grandchildren and great grandchildren. I had a letter from an Enfield primary school head about the funding crisis now facing our schools where teachers are getting a 1% pay increase after years of a pay freeze. Our schools are being placed in a position that is financially unsustainable and the possible consequences could well be a mix of increased class sizes, staff cuts, reduced curriculum resources and activities.

I can hardly believe that our schools are each being asked to find about £10,000 under the government’s imposed Apprenticeship Levy scheme – a tax on a school’s wage bill – which business groups have urged be delayed because of increased costs at a time of economic uncertainty. And the local council is having to cut its grant aid to schools because it, too, is seeing its education grant cut.

Good Government should be about restoring the £600 million in funding cuts that have hit the Metropolitan Police which has led to a steep increase in gun and knife crime in London over the last year. Gun crime was up 42% and knife crime 24% – and the Met is expected to find another £400 million in cuts – always described as “efficiency savings’” by 2020.

Here in Enfield knife crime is rearing its ugly head with three fatal stabbings in six weeks in Edmonton, Enfield and Oakwood.

Gun crime has seen a 49% rise in Enfield, with a total of some 50 extra offences. Enfield police are working hard to fight this increase daily. They are particularly targeting knife crime across the borough, utilising metal detecting knife search arches and weapon sweeps. Assistant Met Commissioner Martin Hewitt says: “It would be a naive answer to say that if you cut a significant amount out of an organisation, you don’t have any consequences.”

Good Government should be about ensuring that everyone is entitled to a later life with a state pension providing dignity and security. We need a Brexit deal that will protect the EU health insurance card and the rights of UK pensioners living abroad. Various politicians, think tanks, academics and the media have been drip-feeding the line that older people’s pensions are the cause of many of the country’s problems – from the shortage of housing to the lack of hospital beds.

They shed crocodile tears in claiming that we are being molly-coddled at the expense of today’s working population and future generations. When the truth surely is that in battling to protect our pensions and universal benefits, we will be leaving them a platform on which to build a better life.

If we lose today, tomorrow’s generation will not forgive us.

Monty Meth

 

April 2017

Hate crime: the rising menace

Thankfully the level of hate crimes in Enfield does not appear to be as high as in many other areas, but we need to be vigilant to ensure that it is reported – and challenged by all of us

Recently a short item in the Metro newspaper about an Enfield resident was headed: "Hitler is God man jailed for five years." He was, the article said, a father of three, who had a huge swastika tattooed on his chest. It was alleged that he posted racist messages online and had a bomb manual. He admitted publishing hate speech, possessing racist material and one terrorism offence. (24 February, 2017)

Fortunately, this was a pretty isolated case as Enfield has not seen the same increase of race hate incidents that many areas have experienced following the June 2016 referendum. Overall in London there was a 22% rise in race hate incidents which, in part, led Home Secretary Amber Rudd to announce a series of measures to tackle hate crime. 

Entitled the Hate Crime Action Plan, the £60 million fightback project to challenge extremism in all its forms, led Ms Rudd to call on communities across Britain to "come together and stand united against those who use hate to divide us."

Enfield has its own Hate Crime Forum comprising the council, police, Enfield Disability Action, Enfield Racial Equality Council and the LGBT network constantly monitoring hate crime and encouraging people to report any incidents of verbal abuse, property damage, physical assaults or graffiti scrawled on property.

This has led to a 20% increase in local racial incidents being reported in the six months ending December 2016 compared with six months ending 2015, but in the ten weeks after the Brexit vote there was a decrease in racial incidents reported in Enfield. In Hertfordshire, for example, there was a 30% increase in hate crime between last July and September.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has said that a small number of people used the Brexit vote to "legitimise inexcusable racism and prejudice." A hate Incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.

If you, or anyone you know, has been called names, been bullied or had anything happen to them that you think may be because of one of these factors, then you should report this as a hate incident. Even if you don’t want the incident to be investigated, it is important that the police know about it, so that they can build up a picture of how many incidents are happening and where. This information can help police investigating other hate incidents.

The Metropolitan Police now has 900 specialist officers across London dedicated to investigating hate crime and here in Enfield our faith and communities officer is PC Steve Savell and he can be contacted via steven.savell@met.police

It is against this background that the Forum executive has invited Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, to be the guest speaker at our AGM on Tuesday morning 30 May in the conference room at the Civic Centre. Faith Matters was launched in 2006 to help communities reduce conflict between faiths, improve community cohesion and counter extremism.

 

February 2017

Let us make our voices heard in 2017

We need to continue to make sure that we hold the government to account for wasting public funds and prevent it trying to cut pensions

Because I read newspapers and watch TV news bulletins, my children and grandchildren consider me old-fashioned. It is claimed that 64% of news is now accessed through social media – the digital revolution – like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other sources of information often found to be fake, with hoax stories like those that featured in the American presidential election.

So I prefer to stick to the printed word; the fact-checked article, for my information. Articles, for example, which challenge the waste of public funds that could be better employed supporting our cash-starved health and later life care services.

Take for instance the £285 million the government spent on building an airfield on the Atlantic island of St. Helena. Ministers claimed it was a “brilliant” project, completed on time and on budget.

The only snag, not identified until it was too late, was that the winds over St. Helena were always too strong to allow aircraft to leave or land on the island. The sequel to this story was that the top civil servant involved was awarded a knighthood in the 2017 New Year’s Honours. Can you just hear Victor Meldrew with one foot in the grave saying: “I don’t believe it”?

Or there’s the £500 million the Royal Navy wasted building five offshore patrol vessels it now finds it doesn’t need, while our newly knighted Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, blandly claims 2017 to be “the year of the Navy”

Or take the latest example of exorbitant charges for off-patent medicines being charged by rapacious manufacturers of generic drugs. In 2015 alone, the NHS spent an extra £262 million on the increased cost of some 50 generic medicines, the licences for which were sold to people who promptly used a loophole in NHS price regulations allowing them to implement larger price increases for newly-licensed medicines.

It seems the NHS has for years relied on the virtuous ‘free market competition’ to set the price of unbranded generic medicines, which left the licence-owner free to impose huge increases for products on which they had a virtual monopoly. And did you notice that the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer was recently fined £84.2 million for  allowing the price of its epilepsy drug to be increased 2,600% (that’s not a misprint).

The government is only now – well after the horse has bolted – legislating for the health secretary to have some new powers over medicine prices, something I would have thought the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens should have noticed while he has been driving his nationwide 220 Clinical Commissioning Groups, such as the one here in Enfield, to cut their medicine bills.

Instead of sorting out the medicines price racket on his own doorstep, Mr Stevens, I am afraid, chose to join the cats chorus of those attacking so-called ‘pensioners perks’ by calling on the government to slash our bus passes and end the Triple Lock which guarantees annual increases in the basic state retirement pension whichever is the highest between earnings, price inflation or 2.5%.

Mr Stevens goes for the cheap headline saying the savings from pensioner benefits should be used to fund adult social care. Like so many others, he doesn’t say what should replace the Triple Lock – and that’s the big challenge we need to make every time we hear or read these attacks.

There are some who say state pension increases should be linked to a Double Lock – to prices or earnings and ending the 2.5% guarantee. But what would that achieve if as freely forecast price inflation is expected to reach 2.6% or even 3% in the next year or so? And when Transport Minister Christopher Grayling defended the 2.3% increase in rail fares which kicked off 2017 he brazingly claimed this was below the current increase in earnings. Believe that if you like.

So there’s no easy answer to the Triple Lock and I’ll never get fed up in arguing that every attack on current pensioner income is an attack on the income of all future generations of pensioners. 

The pretence that cutting income from today’s pensioners is for the benefit of today’s working population is a myth. Just like the myth governments tried to sell in the 1960s and ‘70s that if the miners didn’t ask for a pay rise it would help the nurses.

So my message for 2017 is: let’s continue to make our views known. Make our voices heard loud and clear and let’s defeat those who seek to divide us from future generations of pensioners. They are, after all, our own kith and kin.

Monty Meth

 

December 2016

Brexit kerfuffle starts pensions panic

We need to protect the Triple Lock for the sake of future generations of pensioners as much as for older people today

Unpredictable, uncertain, unplanned, unchartered – how else would you describe going into the New Year 2017 when nobody can be in any doubt that we are now entering the most complex period of government decision-making in our lifetimes.

Never mind the awaited Supreme Court ruling on whether Parliament should have a say before initiating Britain’s exit from the EU, the Daily Telegraph on 21 October was already telling its readers: "Brexit is perhaps the single biggest and most complex political and governmental task any peacetime prime minister has faced."

Brexit may indeed end in that wonderful new world we are promised – but meanwhile in the world in which we live now, we see that the government’s budget deficit is on the rise again.

Instead of having a budget surplus of £10.4 billion by 2020 we are now warned to expect a deficit of £14.9 billion. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that tax revenues will then be £31 billion lower than Treasury forecasts – and pensioners are first in the firing line to make up the shortfall.

This is the background to the siren calls to scrap universal benefits such as the Triple Lock which guarantees a state pension increase of at least 2.5% a year as being unaffordable. Along with the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for the over 75s, they are the top targets for cuts.

I have seldom read a more economically illiterate report than that issued by the 11 MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee who claim the Triple Lock is "inherently unsustainable".
The report claims that, if nothing is done, the state pension will grow faster than wage increases and so account for an ever-greater share of national income. It says: "In particular, we find no objective justification for the 2.5% minimum increase."

That 2.5% will give people on the full state pension of £119 a week an extra £3 next April at the same time as inflation is widely tipped to rise by 3-4 % as prices rise, partly as a result of the Brexit exchange rate fall in sterling.

Can these MPs and the media hounds echoing their call to "kill the lock" not see that if wages only rise by some 2% and the state pension by 2.5% at the same time as inflation increases by 3% or more, then both pensioners and today’s working people are going to have less disposable income?

So instead of seeking to divide us from the younger working generation, we argue that cutting the value of the state pension will inevitably harm the next and all future generations of pensioners. If we lose today, they will lose tomorrow.

Remember too that the UK state pension is ranked the 32nd lowest out of 34 countries in the OECD; that 6.5 million older people have an income of less than £11,000 a year; that millions still need means-tested top-ups just to get by; and one in seven pensioners still lives in poverty. So much for branding us "golden oldies".

We are thinking too of today’s working-age population, the majority of whom will not have final salary pensions that many pensioners today enjoy; indeed they find it hard to save for any pension when housing costs are so prohibitive.

The 2.5% guarantee of the Triple Lock is the only protection they have when they come to retire. So, in campaigning to hold on to what we have secured, we do so to protect future generations.

We’ve seen more attacks recently on older people by so-called inter-generational think tanks claiming that we have escaped the years of austerity and have deliberately – yes, they say deliberately – accumulated housing wealth at the expense of our children and grandchildren.

Here’s the Inter-generational Foundation issuing a report saying older people have saddled the younger generation with an excessive bill for state pensions while grabbing an ever-greater share of NHS spending – that’s the inflammatory language they use to create divisions between us and future generations of pensioners.

The housing crisis hasn’t been caused by pensioners, but because we sold off millions of council houses and every politician accepts that we haven’t been building enough affordable homes.

Wages are so often too low and jobs insecure and we have an economy largely built on house-price inflation. This is what the think tanks should be addressing.

Poorer pensioners still need that winter fuel allowance which is also under attack. Remember that recent winter when a staggering 43,900 older people died from cold- related illnesses. Energy bills continue to rise, and spells of prolonged cold weather and poor housing still mean that older people are particularly vulnerable.

When it was first introduced, the winter fuel allowance covered around a third of the average fuel bill. Now it hardly covers an eighth. But the real reason why we have so many additional benefits for pensioners is because our state pension is so low.

We are an easy attack target only because we are living too long for some people. In 1985 – the year when the first mobile phone call was made – there were 3,420 people aged 100 or more.

By 2015 the number of centenarians had grown to 14,570. In 1985 there were just 130 people aged 105 and over. Last year there were 850 – marvellous if you are in good health. Terrifying if your health is poor.

For years, successive governments and all political parties have been urged to address these and similar social care issues – and we all know the result: that health and social care is now facing the worst ever financial crisis and successive governments pass the buck to their successors.

So my message for 2017 is don’t sit back and leave it to the politicians. We need to stand firm and act as the watchdogs, the guardians, the pacesetters to maintain, protect and enhance the prospects for a better life for our ageing population – not just for today’s generation of older people – but also for those that will follow us.

Monty Meth

 

October 2016

We’re all being fleeced - both old and young

If you listen to people such as the Intergenerational Foundation, we oldies are ripping off our own children and grandchildren by securing a state retirement pension – dubbed the triple lock – guaranteed to increase by at least 2.5% every year at least until 2020.

Instead of playing off one generation against another (the old game of ‘divide and rule’), I want to show how both old and young are being swindled by a devious Treasury. We would, I believe, be better off battling together than slagging off each other based on the false premise that we are saddling the younger generation with an excessive bill for state pensions, while grabbing an excessive share of NHS spending.

In June 2010, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, replaced the Retail Prices Index (RPI) with the lower Consumer Prices Index (CPI) and, according to figures recently released by the Department of Work and Pensions, the basic state pension would have been £1.15p a week higher by 2015 if the government had not switched from RPI to CPI.

By April 2015 it would have been £117.10 a week rather than £115.95 – so £58.90 a year more. So the total loss to someone receiving the full basic state pension over the five years since the triple lock was introduced has been £163.80 – hence we believe that maintaining the triple lock, but linked to RPI rather than the lower CPI, will be the best protection for both today’s pensioners – and for the younger generation and future beneficiaries of all we achieve.

But craftily, the Treasury has not used the lower CPI inflation rate to fix the interest payments on tuition fee loans of our 530,000 university students. They pay the higher RPI rate of interest on their loans – currently 1.6% plus three percentage points which means 4.6% interest for the current academic year.

So the oldies’ pension is being cut by using the CPI yardstick while our youngsters – the future entrepreneurs and wealth creators on whom we are told Britain will depend – are being saddled with the higher RPI interest payments on their student loans.

Hence my claim that both young and old are being screwed. We’ve a long road to travel before we see an end to the inequality and injustice we hear so much about.

We can all see that the knives are out to end the triple lock which we are told is unaffordable or unsustainable. Even the so-called progressive Fabian Society has joined the cats chorus claiming that ditching it would save £5 billion a year by 2030.

Astonishingly, they want to see the pension linked just to the increase in earnings. You may well ask ‘what increase?’ when we are told that since the financial crisis of 2007-08, real wages in Britain have declined by more than 10% – the largest fall in any developed economy in the world.

Meanwhile, Baroness Ros Altmann, who left her job as pensions minister following the departure of the Cameron government, has added her voice against the triple lock by suggesting it should be cut to a double lock – linked to either price inflation or increased earnings, whichever is higher, so ending the guarantee element of the triple lock.

What the media and the academics too often forget is that many pensioners still live a hand-to-mouth existence. A report from Independent Age found that the over 75s have incomes on average £59 a week lower than younger pensioners and that one in five live in poverty.

Nearly 750,000 pensioners have no income other than state benefits and one third of the over 75s have savings of less than £1,500. And more than one million pensioners have no savings at all. So not all pensioners are ‘golden oldies’ living the life of Riley.

When the state pension went up by £3.35 a week this year, the poorest pensioners receiving the pension credit had a rise of only £2.02 a week – prompting the question "why are the poorest always treated as second class citizens?"

I am grateful to Daniel Finkelstein – Lord Finkelstein – who is also a Conservative Party peer and well connected to government ministers, having been a key member of their Central Office research staff, for setting the record straight on so-called ‘wealthy pensioners’.

Writing in The Times on 24 March 2016, following Iain Duncan Smith’s surprise resignation from the Cabinet, he said: "There was a hint in IDS’s resignation statement that the real problem was all the money going to rich pensioners because they vote Tory. Well, let’s examine this for a moment.

"Pensions is the area that has provided the biggest saving of all because of future increases in the state pension age. But leave that to one side. Who are these rich pensioners who are supposed to carry the rising benefit bill on their back?

"The reason for allowing pensions to rise is that pensioners were a very poor group and on average still are. They are also as a group much less able to find work to offset any reduction in benefits.

"Only 4% per cent of pensioners are higher rate taxpayers. The amount of money that might be produced by means testing the winter fuel allowance is tiny."

I don’t know how many the 4% amounts to, but Daniel Finkelstein’s argument is worth remembering to counteract those who will always be attacking pensioner benefits until the general election in 2020.

Monty Meth

 

August 2016

Fight to save prescriptions

Pressure from the Forum is helping fight a local CCG directive to make patients pay for over-the-counter medication that used to be prescribed by a GP.

 

Has your doctor asked you to buy medication which you have received on prescription in the past? If so, the Forum would like to hear from you. We are fighting a directive from the Enfield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to local GPs that they should stop prescribing medications that can be purchased at pharmacies and supermarkets without a prescription.

Since first issuing the directive and in response to Over 50s Forum protests, the CCG has posted a new letter telling all GPs to "use your professional discretion to identify patients for whom it may be necessary to prescribe occasional over-the-counter items."

But that basic premise – that most patients should pay for over-the-counter medicine rather than get it on prescription is still in place – and opposed by local GPs. GPs have told us that they still believe that, alone in North London, the local CCG is trying to restrict their duty to prescribe the necessary medications. They warn it could set a dangerous precedent and undermines the NHS principle that medicines should be freely available at the point of delivery.

The Forum objected to the original CCG directive which we believe virtually imposed a blanket withdrawal of free prescriptions for many items that could be bought without a GP prescription. It would have singled out the poorest and most vulnerable patients in the community who are entitled to free prescriptions. There are many thousands in the borough receiving income support; unemployed people receiving job seeker’s allowance; low income pensioners qualifying for pension credit, families with children under 16 and young people still in education.

At a top-level meeting with CCG directors, the Forum said the CCG should not try and save money by hitting and hurting the one section of the community least able to bear the brunt of withdrawing free medications – and being told to buy them instead from a pharmacy or supermarket. The CCG should instead launch an across-the-board, borough-wide, self-help and self-care campaign to help reduce the £1 million a year spent by the NHS on GPs prescribing products which can be bought at a pharmacy or supermarket.

The Enfield CCG now says it realises that there are a group of vulnerable patients for whom not prescribing an over-the-counter product may be counter-productive, but it adds that "resources released by this initiative could be used to commission services that require more complex treatments."

In a statement to all GPs, Dr Andrew Green, the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GMC) prescribing sub -committee chairman says: "restrictions which call for GPs not to prescribe any drug available over-the-counter go too far and could put GPs in breach of regulations.

"We must remember that drug companies have got many previously prescription-only medicines re-catergorised over recent years, and it was never intended that these drugs would then cease to be available with a prescription.

"Any GP refusing to prescribe a drug that they had decided was clinically indicated would be in breach of their contractual duties, and might even face action from the GMC for failing to treat properly. All patients need individual consideration and prescribing if appropriate," said Dr Green.

The Over 50s Forum has told the Enfield CCG bosses that it will continue to press the government and NHS England to end the under-funding for both the CCG and the separate public health arm serving the borough which is forcing them to take decisions that can ultimately lead to more costly outcomes if people have to receive a more expensive prescription-only medicine or go to A&E.

"We know that this summer in particular many Enfield patients have suffered from hay fever and needed eye drops costing £4.69 for just 5 mls; a nasal spray at £9.99 and allergy tablets for £3.99 . That’s £18.67 and for someone on a low income that’s really hard. Especially when a patient in neighbouring Haringey or Barnet will get the same items free," said Monty Meth, Forum President.

 

June 2016

>Hillsborough: Are there lessons for the Forum?

June 2016

Hillsborough: Are there lessons for the Forum?

I suspect that the unlawful killing judgement secured by the 96 bereaved Hillsborough families and their moving response to a 27-year campaign for justice was a talking point among many Forum members and their families – as it was in millions of homes throughout the country.

For me, it certainly brought back many memories and rammed home many lessons not least of which is realising just how important it is to keep banging away at something, be it to right a wrong or help to make life better for our fellow citizens. 

My memories go back to being at that same Hillsborough stadium in 1981 to see Spurs play Wolves in a similar FA cup semi-final – and where the very same crowd problems occurred.

What happened in 1989 was a complete replay of events in 1981 – too many people trying to squeeze into too tight a space. 

In 1981 there were the same problems well before kick-off, the same substantial crush in the middle of the terrace which we now know as pens 3 and 4 that were installed in 1985 ostensibly to avoid people bring crushed.

From our seats we could clearly see into the street holding large crowds of Spurs supporters still outside singing and queuing to get in while that part of the stadium reserved for the Wolves supporters was significantly less crowded. That caused me to wonder why Spurs having the much bigger support were given the smaller terrace.

Apparently in 1989 Liverpool were allocated 24,000 tickets and Nottingham Forest 29,000. I assume it was the same in 1981. 

Why was the club with the larger support given fewer tickets and allocated the smaller terrace? It was illogical as was the use of just seven turnstiles to secure entry for some 10,000 people.

About 10 minutes into the 1981 Spurs v Wolves game – almost the same time sequence as in the 1989 disaster – the crush became too much. Fans spilled off the terrace and I suspect doors were opened in order to relieve the crush and the rest of the game was played with a significant number of Spurs supporters sitting around the touchline. 

How close to a disaster we were that day I dont know but what we do know is that 38 Tottenham supporters suffered injuries serious enough to be admitted to hospital with broken arms, legs and ribs. 

And unbelievably, the same crowd problems happened at the same ground in 1987 and 1988 but the host club, the Football Association, the police and local authority turned a blind eye with the horrific outcome for those 96 brave and bereaved families.

On a lighter note, referee Clive Thomas gave the most ridiculous penalty in the last minute to Wolves when Spurs were winning 2-1. The replay took place at Highbury and we won 3-0 which remains one of my best memories of being a Spurs supporter.

While reminiscing about 1981, I’ve followed with tremendous admiration the 27-year campaign for the truth to be told about what happened in 1989 and for justice to be given in place of the lies and cover-ups dished out by some sections of the press and politicians.

Heroically, the victims’ families refused to be fobbed off, ignored, pilloried or rubbished by anyone.

I am not for one minute suggesting that Forum campaigns reach the scale or importance of the Hillsborough 96, but I do feel their amazing display of unity, determination and discipline shows what ordinary folk can achieve if they feel strongly enough, motivated enough and stick together in campaigning and making the case for something they passionately believe in. 

The Forum, in my view, is now heading for some choppy waters and it is going to need all our time, energy and resources to combat the consequences of government cuts in funding for the local authority, which have already been felt by many voluntary groups in the borough.

That is why the Forum will be supporting the cross-party Fairer Funding for Enfield campaign (see also p9) seeking to restore some justice in the way this borough is treated by a Whitehall machine which allocates our council £496.10 per head of population while Westminster gets £917.59 per person, Hammersmith and Fulham receives £900 and Kensington and Chelsea £815 – when all the boroughs carry out the same tasks.

There is also a new and and dangerous threat looming in the funding of local health services. The Enfield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group is now under orders from above to produce a recovery plan which includes making ‘savings’ of £17.1 million by the end of March 2017 and we need to ensure that cuts of this size are not introduced at the expense of patient care in the community. 

We have to make our voices heard. Compel the decision-makers whether in government or the NHS to recognise that Enfield – the 12th most deprived out of London’s 32 boroughs – needs to be treated fairly and will not be discriminated against. 

And with your support we can and will make a difference.

 

April 2016

April 2016

Time to battle for a better deal for Enfield

These se are challenging times for government – both national and local. Here we are after eight years of austerity being told by Chancellor George Osborne that he must make further spending cuts because once again “the storm clouds are clearly gathering in the world economy”. And by the time you see this Newsletter, we’ll all know what he meant.

Forget the chat about the EU referendum for a minute, all the talk is about more efficiency cuts and greater savings. Meanwhile, the budget deficit which you’ll recall was originally to be cleared by 2015 still stands at some £70billion, dimming hopes of that elusive budget surplus by 2020. And talk of balancing the economy towards exports and manufacturing is as far away as ever.

Here in Enfield, I am just staggered to read that government funding to the council now works out at £496.10 per head of our growing population. Can somebody please tell me why Westminster will be getting £917.59 per person, Hammersmith and Fulham £900 and Kensington & Chelsea £815 for carrying out the same statutory tasks?

Why is Enfield always near the bottom of the pile? And isnt it about time that all our political parties dropped the nit-picking and got together with our three MPs, local businesses and the voluntary sector to lobby, demonstrate and had a joint deputation to the Treasury to get a better deal for Enfield?  Since 2010 we have already lost more than £120 million in real-term funding from Whitehall – and almost certainly there’s more to come every year until 2020. Against this background of low funding just consider some of the problems that have to be dealt with. 

We are told that 60% of Edmonton’s children are living in poverty. Enfield has the highest number of children – over 21,000 – living in poverty of any London borough. In 2015, Enfield was ranked the 64th most deprived borough in England out of the 326 local authorities and out of the 33 London boroughs we are the 12th most deprived.

I have often spoken out about giving our youngsters the same opportunities that people of my generation had, yet I’m now told that the education support grant per pupil in Enfield is to be cut by almost 12%, from £87 per pupil to £77.

I seem to recall Ministerial claims that the education budget – like defence and health – is being protected from spending cuts. But, because no allowance is being made for inflation or other increased costs, it means that some schools will have to cut their staffs and not replace the teachers so vital for the community.

We are now facing our first increase in council tax for six years which will be just 1.78% because the levy we have been paying for the 2012 Olympics will be reduced by £12 in this coming financial year and another £8 in 2017/18. But there will be an additional 2% precept imposed at the behest of the government to help meet the rising cost of adult social care.

Based on an estimated 94,317 council taxpaying households in the borough, this is expected to raise some £2 million a year and I think we have to assume that there’ll be council tax increases of 1.99 % and a social care tax of 2% every year until 2020.

Interestingly, a recent survey showed that 74% of people were willing to pay extra tax to ensure that social care workers were paid the new national minimum wage starting this month which will go up by some 7%. So most of that extra £2 million will go to meet the higher wage bill as labour costs are 70-80% of the cost of care provision.

Ray James, the council’s director of health, housing and adult social care, told the Forum that this £2 million is greatly needed, although it does not fully meet the increase in demand for, and the cost of, adult social care in Enfield. The money shrinks but the number of people being helped doesn’t budge.

“The number of older people requiring care and support in Enfield has grown by about 3 to 4% per year in recent years. What has become particularly noticeable is that not only are people living longer but they are often doing so with much more complex needs.

“In Enfield we will continue to do all we can to ensure that older and disabled people get the care and support they need, when and where they need it.  Inevitably, with more people requiring support and less money to do so there are difficult decisions ahead,” he said.

I know what Ray James means about the cost and needs problems he faces for when I was having my new pacemaker checked, the man in front of me was 102 years old! And this is just one example of the consequences of an ageing society and the social and economic problems that our policymakers have ignored for decades. 

Ministers see the longevity figures from the Office of National Statistics but fail to react with new and positive policies to, for example, the 72% increase in the 14,450 centenarians in the last decade – some 780 of them aged 105 and over. In the next five years, the over 65s will go up by over a million and the over 85s will be the fastest growing sector.

Here I am just entering my 91st year when I should be full of the joys of a long and good life being gloomy when I am told that the health and social care system is crumbling. And if it is bad today what are the prospects facing our young people and those with young families?

Will they be living longer and healthier lives and will they have the money to enjoy a long retirement without the final salary pensions that have now virtually all passed into history? At the same time, governments will have to find the money for mounting health and later life budgets that inevitably follow from an ever-ageing population.

A recent conference called by the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK} warned that: 

   Without action to better support more disadvantaged social groups and communities, the gap in life expectancy between the wealthy and the poor will continue to increase.

   Without action to address the current funding and workforce shortages in health and social care, the future needs of our ageing population are unlikely to be met.

   Without action to build more houses, and houses which are adapted to the needs of older people, the housing shortage will continue.

It seems to me that our decision-makers just live in hope that we oldies will just go away. All the talk about demographic change and an ageing society has been with us for 30 or more years and it is here to stay. Instead of moaning and groaning that like old soldiers we ought to just fade away, why can’t the powers that be see the benefits we bring instead of seeing us as a burden?

Monty Meth

 February 2016

February 2016

Biggest pension rise for 15 years

The ‘triple lock’ ensures that the rise in the annual state retirement pension will be the biggest single increase since April 2001 – but this is not a time to be complacent

Thanks to the 2010-2015 coalition government’s introduction of the ‘triple lock’ (to determine whether the rate of the annual state retirement pension increase should be linked to the rise in prices, earnings or 2.5%), pensions will go up in April by 2.9% or £3.35 to £119.30 per week for a single person to match the rise in average earnings.

Less well-off pensioners will get a rise of £4.40 a week as the means-tested pension credit rises to £155.60 a week (single) and £237.55 (couple). But more than a million pensioners who are slightly better off and receive what is called the ‘savings element of pension credit’ will keep just £2 of the £3.35 rise.

This is the first time the pension has been linked to the increase in earnings since the 1970s when the link was abandoned by Mrs Thatcher’s government. It is the biggest single increase since April 2001 when the pension went up by £5 per week for single people following the rise in prices.

The Conservative government elected last May was the only major political party to pledge both the continued support for the ‘triple lock’ link to pension increases and to maintain the current band of universal benefits for pensioners, though it is shifting the near £700 million cost of free TV licences for the over 75s to the BBC until 2020 - and there’s no guarantee what happens to free TV licences after that.

And we do not lose sight of the fact that at the same time as the Cameron government is doing the right thing for pensioners, it is hitting the working poor with cuts in their already low living standards, thus adding to the inequality, despair, frustration and hardship for millions of families.

And, according to the economic forecasters, the coming year will see earnings growth pegged back to around 2%, so next year’s pension increase is likely to rely on the 2.5% guaranteed by the triple lock. And just seven days into the New Year we saw Chancellor Osborne warn that Britain’s fragile economy faces a "dangerous cocktail of new threats".

Politicians from all parties must have been embarrassed when they read a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which said that British pensioners faced almost the worst fall in income in the world when they retire. An average UK worker relying on the state for their pension income receives about 38% of what they had been earning. Only workers in Chile and Mexico fared worst.

The OECD said that Britain spends just 5.6% of its total income on public pensions compared with an average 7.9 % by other developed countries. But the politicians will no doubt argue that this excludes the cost of universal benefits such as the Freedom Pass, free prescriptions, winter fuel allowances. free eye tests and TV licences for the over 75s.

It is because the continued maintenance of these universal benefits are subject to the whims and decisions of individual politicians – and are not subject to parliamentary legislation like the state retirement pension – that we need to be on our guard against those who constantly seek to attack these benefits.

So, as we can now see that the government is sticking to its manifesto pledge to maintain universal benefits, it would be churlish on our part not to publicly place on record our thanks to the three Enfield MPs in the 2010-15 parliament, Nick de Bois, David Burrowes and Andy Love who met Forum deputations and we know they pressed the Chancellor to maintain the full range of universal benefits.

We also thank those who supported our 8,000-plus petition to the MPs and particularly those who collected signatures in the borough because it is worth recalling that it all helped to secure the benefits we are now receiving.

There is no doubt that before this Parliament ends in 2020 we shall be called upon to campaign again to defend what we have won — not just for ourselves but for all future generations of pension

Monty Meth

 

November 2015

Social problems facing us in 2016

This may seem a little early to thank all our Forum members – and some 10,000 Newsletter readers – for the tremendous support given to the Over 50s Forum this past year, and to wish you all well during the coming festive season, but this is the last newsletter until February 2016.

So what can we look forward to in the coming year? I think a major public debate is desperately needed to seek a broad consensus on the many social problems facing all age groups and all communities right across the country starting with health and social care that should be guaranteed to every citizen, from the cradle to the grave, free whenever it is needed.

Our three main political parties are great democratic institutions but of each of them it surely can be said that  they make promises that are then not kept. In the absence of a written constitution and a bill of rights we have no reference point; no guarantees that services or benefits cannot be changed or cancelled at the whims of this or that politician.

At this year’s political party conferences, we heard appeals to look for the best in people, not the worst; that everyone should be treated as being of equal value and that people always achieve more together than they do when they are at each other’s throats. 

We heard pleas for kinder politics, for less personal abuse, but I would suggest this can only be achieved if there is agreement across the board to cut out the insults and knockabout Punch and Judy stuff.

So where would I start? Seldom, if ever, have I felt more angry, sick and frustrated as I was when I read that homeless young people in London unable to find beds in emergency hostels, are being given bus tickets by a charity allowing them to sleep on all-night buses. The number now sleeping rough in London is far greater than hostel places for the homeless.

St Mungo’s, a charity that I and other Forum members help to support, reports that the homeless numbers have increased in London by 55% since 2010 and it will get worse due to rising rents, cuts in benefit allowances and reduced funding for the homeless charities. Surely, acting together we can do better than that, but not I fear when housing benefit is removed from all 18-21 year olds come next April, when we are warned this will create yet more homeless people.

Or take the sudden interest our politicians are showing in the need to build more houses. First we encouraged the sale of council houses and prevented councils spending their income on building replacement homes. Then we encouraged foreign investors to come into central London and buy up blocks of land, driving out local people. The result: There’s a three bedroom so-called affordable flat in Hackney priced at £1million – and that’s classed as “affordable” because it is priced at less than 80% of the marketable rate.

Any day of the week you can pick up a newspaper and be greeted by headlines such as: “NHS is like a train just before a crash” or “Hospitals run up debts of almost £1 billion” above reports that two thirds of hospitals are now in debt and warn that many are getting into deeper financial trouble with a deficit of more than £930 million in the first three months of this year alone.

Hospitals granted the coveted Foundation Trust status – the so-called gold standard of excellence – have accumulated a deficit of £349 million. This is 35 times the £10 million they were expected to show and all the Department of Health appears to say is that these trusts need to get better at balancing their books!

Against this background, all we hear from Ministers is the need for the NHS to achieve two targets. Firstly, to secure £22 million of savings by 2020 and secondly to have GPs available throughout the country seven days a week from 8am till 8pm. No matter how absurd and unrealistic the targets are, Ministers keep up the pretence that things are getting better.

They are not so rosy if you listen to Andrea Sutcliffe, the chief inspector of adult social care, who has warned that huge cuts in funding and failure to deal with a rising ageing population have left the social care sector under stress and strain with £4.6 billion being cut from social care budgets in the last five years – and introducing the new minimum living wage will only add to the crisis unless government helps to bridge the financial gap.

So this then are just some of the social problems facing us in 2016 which will need to be tackled across the political divide if we want to enjoy not just a longer life, but a longer and healthier life which has always been a top Forum priority.

Predictions that we used to see about youngsters born today living to be 100 are now being regularly upgraded. We have now gone from living to 100 to today’s newborn working until they are 100 years old and living till they are 120.

So on that note I think just wishing you all a happy and healthy 2016 will have to suffice as being more realistic.

Monty Meth

 

September/October 2015

Dividing the generations is dangerous

The Forum campaigns for the rights of older people – to protect the pensions and benefits for both today’s and future generations. But we do not believe this means that younger people should be denied the new Living Wage and face other forms of discrimination.

Should we be angry by the way the recent budget is dividing the young from the old? Does it reflect the way so many politicians are out of touch with ordinary families? What possible justification can there be for excluding the under 25s from the new National Living Wage starting next April? Do our politicians really understand how hard it is for young people to make their way in life with a good job, decent pay and the chance to own their own home, as so many of us aspired to when we were in our early 30s ?

We are, of course, grateful for the triple lock that guarantees our state pension will increase by at least 2.5% for the next five years – or by the increase in average earnings or prices if they are higher – but why scrap the maintenance grants for less well-off students worth up to £3,800 a year? We couldn’t live without our Freedom Pass which you will see expires on 31 March 2020, but why does the government intend taking away the housing benefit from all 18 -21 year olds even though charities all warn it will lead to an increase in homelessness? We would be angry if we lost our free prescriptions or winter fuel allowance, but why will the new national living wage – which they say will be £9.35 an hour by 2020 – not kick in until you are aged 25? Why not at 18 or 21 when youngsters need all the help they can get and when they are old enough to fight and die?

Today’s over 55s are said to be the home-owning generation, as younger people struggle to buy and fear higher mortgage payments are on their way – only 40% of 25 to 34 yearolds are now buying their own homes compared to 67% in 1991. If we ‘oldies’ feel like the “I’m alright Jack, never had it so good” generation having for the most part enjoyed full employment, access to pensions and seen our house values increase, how must the under 25s feel with the way they are being treated by the recent budget when there seems to be so little fairness between the older and younger generations?

There is now a think tank called the Intergenerational Foundation charged with researching fairness between the generations. It says they are shocked by how much the government is building up intergenerational tensions. Previous governments have also done it, but this budget has been particularly harsh on young people, and particularly generous to older people, they say. Since 2010 there has been a 10% reduction in young people’s prospects across a range of measures including housing, education, health, income and debt, says the Foundation, which adds that we are piling debts on young people while denying them the prospect of buying their own homes. And the number of jobless young people is three times higher than in Germany. So are we witnessing a new form of discrimination based on age against our under 25s? And, if so, could it be related to the recent general election showing a 78% turnout of the over 65s compared with mere 43% for the 18-25s? 

It is, however, crucial that the idea of older people having escaped the effects of austerity at the expense of the younger generation is not allowed to be accepted as fact – not when the latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that almost two million pensioners are still living in poverty with an income less than 60% of that enjoyed by the rest of the population. We should not forget the staggering amount pensioners pay in direct and indirect taxes to the government, such as VAT, council tax, tax on insurance for cars, homes and travel etc and now the windfall from cashing pension pots. 

It is estimated to account for more than 30% of pensioners’ incomes or £47.26 billion last year and equal to £6,500 a year from retired households. By April 2019, the Treasury expects the taxman to be taking almost £51 billion a year from pensioners. Remember too how the uprating of the state retirement pension was changed from the Retail Prices Index to the Consumer Prices Index – resulting effectively in a 1% cumulative cut every year which adds up to a fair old whack over a lifetime.

 

July/August 2015

Enfield needs community participation

Collaboration between the council and the community is key to the success of Enfield, says Rob Leak, Chief Executive of Enfield Borough Council. And that collaboration needs to include all sections of the community, he told attendees at the Enfield Borough Over50s Forum’s AGM at the Civic Centre in May, where he gave a personal view on the future of the

“If some people lobby for their position and the rest of the community is silent, than that one voice prevails. We need to find a balance for the good of the community. The political body works better where a wide range of people are vocal.”

He admitted that, as we all know, money and resources for the council are declining, so the council is in the process of “simplifying in order to create better services that cost less”. As part of this ‘journey’, the council is reorganising to reduce the number of ‘silos’ which result in residents being passed around between different people and departments when they are looking for information.The aim is that no resident should have to speak to more than three council people. Under the present system, the record was 38. Rob Leak said, with some understatement:  “We realise we need to be much more listening, open and transparent.”

He says there are a lot of good thing happening in Enfield but he admits that in the future there will not be the money “to provide the width and depth of social services that we do now”. The rapid increase in Enfield’s population also poses challenges. It has grown to 320,000 compared with 270,000 people 12 years ago. And the population could rise to 350,000 by 2020.Therefore the council needs the community to get involved in making the really difficult choices that are ahead. The role of the community is to:

1) articulate the need and 2) positively help the council in very difficult circumstances to make the choices that are the best for our community.

Monty Meth, Forum President’ echoed Rob Leak’s call for more community participation.  He made the point that people also needed to make their views known to their MPs as so much of the funding for services is controlled by Parliament. “Look at the example of the Public Health money allocated to Enfield compared with other boroughs. We need people to write to newspapers and to their MPs. We are not angry enough!

Rob Leak commended groups like the Forum for making sure that people’s voices are heard. “Lobbying is the main thing. Voice is what works in a democracy. No voice equals no democracy. And the voice needs to be long-term and persistent – that is what wins through.”

May/June 2015

Public health deserves fair funding
Enfield Council is still underfunded to deliver public health, especially in contrast to other London boroughs.

The government grant awarded to Enfield Council – the body charged to deliver a wide range of services to raise health standards in the Borough – remains unchanged from last year.

The government grant for Enfield public health for the 2015/16 finanical year will be £14.257 million. This is 13.6% below the accepted target figure set for Enfield in Whitehall which takes into account the relative needs of Enfield residents.The Enfield allocation works out at £43 per head compared to, for example, £133 per head for Kensington and Chelsea residents, £114 per head for Hammersmith and Fulham, £84 per head in Lambeth and £68 in Haringey.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts, in one of its last reports before Parliament was dissolved on 30 March, commented that by not changing the distribution of money, the Department of Health was not getting local Public Health bodies to their target allocations quickly enough and the present funding inequalities were persisting. It warned that if the next government did not ring-fence future grants there is a risk that spending on Public Health will decline as councils come under increasing financial pressures. This means the twin aims of strengthening Public Health’s capability in all local authority areas to tackle health inequalities and reduce the burden on the NHS would be undermined. In its first year of operation, the grant awarded to Enfield Council was 19.7% below the target allocation needed. Its many tasks included tackling obesity, smoking, drug abuse and heavy alcohol drinking; promoting physical activity, a healthy diet and sexual health, and to support the wellbeing of our children – especially the ones with greatest needs.

Enfield Council’s Public Health team recently produced an excellent annual Public Health report called ‘Mind the Gap: Reducing the gap in life expectancy’, which presented detailed information on the battle to reduce inequalities in the Borough and outlined the partnerships the Public Health team have formed with a range of organisations including UCL Partners, the Academic and Health Sciences Network, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. The report also presented the success of the strategy to date. Over 3,500 more Enfield residents have their blood pressure under control than in 2008 and smoking prevalence is down to 15.8% (about the same as New York). According to Public Health England’s Longer Life tool, Enfield has the lowest premature mortality of its peer group of 15 local authorities. The annual Public Health report described increases in life expectancy in the Edmonton area, with a major reduction in inequalities for women in Enfield.

Although the coalition government repeatedly claimed that it increased the health budget between 2010 and 2014, this clearly excluded the Public Health segment of the health service in Enfield. So we can give notice to Enfield’s incoming MPs that this is an issue high on our post-election agenda.

 

March/ April 2015

Where should Enfield cut costs?
Forum members attending a budget workshop gained a better understanding of the tough choices facing Enfield Co

Enfield Council is facing a difficult time as it attempts to set the budget for this year and deliver a plan for a four-year balanced budget.

"We are looking at all aspects of the budget to increase efficiency but we need to make savings of £80 million over the next four years," Doug Taylor, Leader of the Council, told Forum members at our monthly Civic Centre meeting in January.

The plan is to cut £35m this coming financial year and then £10-15m in each of the following three years. The Council’s current budget is £253m net, so it is obvious that difficult decisions need to be made. To help the audience understand the problem, everyone was given a list of the council’s main ‘service expenditure items’ and asked to indicate where they would make cuts. There were 30 services with options to reduce 1) not at all, 2) not very much, 3) to some extent or 4) a great deal.

 

It soon became obvious that it’s a tough choice. Is it better to cut support for children and young people in care or funding for adults with mental health issues? Street cleaning or leisure services? Food safety or trading standards? Or cut all of those and maintain funding for something else like housing or services for older people? One member of the audience asked if it was possible to simply cut the same percentage across all services. Andrew Stafford, Cabinet Member responsible for finance, explained that wouldn’t work as the level of cuts needed would leave some services unviable. And the council also has statutory requirements to maintain some services at certain levels.


Council tax contributes about £100m (30% of the budget) and the level has been frozen since 2009/10, so maybe that could be raised, someone else asked.
But that is not the answer either. At the moment, central government contributes the equivalent of what would be raised by a 1% increase. Councils could raise council tax by up to 1.9% (if agreed in a borough-wide referendum) without incurring any penalties, but would then lose that 1% contribution.

 

Andrew also pointed out that no authority had attempted a referendum. "Council tax is not popular as you get sent a bill and have to pay it. People don’t seem to view increases in income tax or VAT in the same way."

The council is making efforts to increase efficiency, including joint procurement of some outsourced services with Haringey and Waltham Forest and moving more services online."We benchmark against other boroughs and continually look for suggestions – including from the borough’s residents – to help us balance the budget. It would be particularly good if people came up with some big ideas and more creative ideas," said Doug.

But he admits it is a no-win situation. "Reductions in funding from central government mean councils are going to make cuts that impact on services. We are just trying to consult as widely as possible so that we know the residents’ priorities and concerns."

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom and we should remember there are many projects being undertaken to improve the lives of Enfield residents. For example, the council has built a new combined medical centre, library and community facility at Ordnance Road (an area where 50% of residents are not registered with a GP) and will spend money on a new Eco-park in Edmonton to help cut air pollution in an area of low life expectancy. We should also celebrate the fact that we still have 17 libraries in Enfield, more than any other London Borough.

 

January/February 2015

Make 2015 a year to remember

You’ll know the old saying: ‘Another day; another dollar’. Well, here we are entering 2015 and I reckon the same can be said of another new year. A fresh start, another set of opportunities and challenges – and some old ones too that still need to be dealt with.

We moved into Enfield back in 1962 the same year as American country singer Wynn Stewart released his single: ‘Another day, another dollar; that’s what I’m working for today. Another day, another dollar; sure can’t buy my blues away’.So the start of another New Year is a good time for me to reflect on these last 52 years in Enfield and, more importantly, to think about what lies ahead for our children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren – and similar thoughts, I’ve no doubt, will be crossing the minds of us all at this special time of year.

In just over four months time we’ll be having a general election and I’d like to think it will set the agenda for the next decade or more, so making this a year to remember. An election year that will set the scene for the kind of country we want our offspring to grow up in and enjoy, just as so many of my generation have experienced. Full employment, pay rises every year, the chance of owning your own house – contrast this with the prospects facing many young people and young families today. Imagine what it must feel like working on a zero hours contract, not knowing how much income you will have this week, next week. No sick pay, no holiday pay, no company pension to look forward to.

A recent survey by the insurer LV revealed that young people expect to have as many as nine jobs over their working life – twice as many as their grandparents. The ‘jobs for life’ concept has become virtually extinct – and they can expect to work well into their 70s.

The Trades Union Congress claims that only one in every 40 new jobs created since the recession began over five years ago is for a full-time employee – most new jobs have been part-time or for the self-employed. While the older generation bemoan the low income currently earned from our savings, young families fear an increase in the very same interest rates would see them struggle with mortgage payments.

I suppose there have always been scandals to rock our confidence, but I can’t recall the Daily Mail ever running a front page headline like ‘Why aren’t these crooked bankers in jail’ when the Financial Conduct Authority merely fined five banks £2.6 billion for driving down the value of the pound against the dollar and rigging the foreign exchange market against not just the big multinationals, but the likes of you and me.

What message does this send out to the next generation struggling to make headway? Do you think we have got our priorities right when we are supposed to have cleaned up the banks after they needed £150 billion of taxpayers’ money from across the world to keep them afloat, while people endured six years of economic recession and austerity?Just when we thought we were on the road to recovery, the warning lights are said to be flashing again on the global economic dashboard and the Financial Times in its main editorial on 11 November said: ‘None of the major parties has come close to setting out an answer to Britain’s fiscal dilemma. At the very least, they should come clean with voters about the nature of the questions that need answering’.

So, if 2015 is really going to be a landmark year – an agenda setting year for the next generation – I’d ask the next government whether they can ignore the largely unreported findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world has just 16 years to avoid a carbon emissions calamity.Now, in case you feel I’m straying into forbidden territory, can I say that from the day we became the Over 50s Forum we’ve always said we are ‘non-party political’ – not ‘non-political’.

The difference is that as a Forum we do not support any one political party, but we reserve the right to comment on matters that are deemed to be political, because it is politicians and governments that make the policies we are concerned with. Whether this be on pensions, or the health service, or universal benefits such as the bus pass and winter fuel allowances, free prescription charges and free TV licences for the over 75s.

And it is local government – our councillors – that decide on a vast array of services in Enfield ranging from care for the elderly and people with disabilities and mental health problems, to libraries and leisure centres; from housing the homeless to repairing roads and footpaths – all matters of concern to the older people we seek to represent.

Elsewhere in the January/February 2015 Newsletter you will see how we have had a very friendly and productive dialogue with Enfield’s three MPs and we are now having the same discussion with the council on its 2015-16 budget. All of them regard the Forum as an important non-party political voice of older people in this borough and so I hope this understanding will continue during the years ahead, because there is still so much to do if our hopes that the next generation will do better than us is going to be achieved.

 

November/December 2014

What’s my crystal ball saying?

The festive season is fast creeping up on us and 2015 is just ahead. No doubt we’re all saying “where did 2014 go and what will the New Year bring?” Well, we do know there’s going to be a general election in May and, other than our birthdays making us all a little older, there are a few other things we can be sure about.

I’m no prophet but you can be pretty sure that the NHS will stumble from crisis to crisis as its financial problems get worse and  waiting lists get longer – and now there’s some wiseacre reported in the Daily Telegraph (10 October)  saying that the money to pay state retirement pension will run out in a year or so.

But let’s first have some better news – but only if you are already a home-owner or have a mortgage to buy one. Britain’s biggest property website called Rightmove has predicted that of all the boroughs in London, Enfield will see the greatest increase in house prices over the next five years.

It says average prices in Enfield will rise 39% from £381,000 to £531,000 - equal to an increase of £575 every week for the next five years. The report claims to be “the most comprehensive house price forecast of its kind ever created based on property and economic data, rather than opinions and short-term market factors.”

While existing homeowners may believe they are in line for a windfall, people in rented homes and young families striving to get on the homeowning ladder, will want to hear about more homes being built at affordable prices – not just promises – and not that interest rates and their mortgage payments will go up next year.

To counter this news, which will please some and yet increase the inequality divide between different communities and parts of Enfield, we have another prediction from a so-called influential think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), that the Government’s cash reserves, funding  state retirement pension payments will run dry next year.

To add to the worries of younger people, the CPS claims to have discovered a “serious flaw” in the National Insurance Fund that will mean future state pensions will be “derisory” unless urgent action was taken. It even suggests that the under-35s should be prepared for the state pension to be scrapped.

I’m told that in the 1980s, the National Insurance Fund regularly received a Treasury grant because there wasn’t enough in it to pay people - but nobody ever claimed it was unsustainable. The fund still has a surplus - not as big as it once was, but bigger than in the ‘80s.  During the recent recession obviously less National Insurance payments went in and more unemployment benefits went out.

It strikes me that some of these research reports are so much poppycock designed just to get their name in print. Take this story in The Times (11 October) which said that men with large feet are more likely to have extramarital affairs than those with average feet taking seven to nine shoes – so I’m in the clear then. I’m a size eight!

IllicitEncounters.com – a dating website for married people – claims to have polled 3,128 men and found that those with feet above size ten were more than three times more likely to stray than men with smaller feet -  and to prove it they quote Bill Clinton ( size12), Tiger Woods (size 10) and Hugh Grant (size 11) as love cheats with big feet.

Not to be dismissed so lightly, however, are the warnings coming thick and fast from think tanks, surveys, polls and letters from medical experts all warning that the NHS and social care services are at breaking point and things cannot go on like this. An NHS deficit of £30 billion is predicted by 2020 – a funding black hole that has to be filled if we are to keep pace with a growing and ageing population.

So are we surprised when The Times runs a front page story (13 October) headlined: “NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit.” It goes on to say: “Senior Tories have admitted that reorganising the NHS was the biggest mistake they have made in government. David Cameron did not understand the controversial reforms and George Osborne regrets not preventing what Downing Street officials call a ‘huge strategic error’. The prime minister and the chancellor both failed to realise the explosive extent of plans drawn up by Andrew Lansley, when he was the health secretary, which one insider described as ‘unintelligible gobbledygook’.”

It is what our Forum has been saying ever since the coalition government, which promised “no top down reorganisation”, floated the Health and Social Care Bill which became law. And this will be at the top of our agenda when the Forum meets the three Enfield MPs at separate meetings in Westminster on 5 November.

And it will remain at the top throughout 2015 as we campaign to ensure that  we leave to future generations an  NHS still true to its founding principles of healthcare for all, provided according to need and not the ability to pay. 

September/October 2014

Over 50 – time to start a second life

Reports issued by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) are not the best leisure time reading, but they do contain some information nuggets well worth digesting. The OBR was created by the Chancellor, George Osborne, as the independent watchdog of the country’s economy. What it says about the future often determines government policy today – or it should do.

So when the OBR talks about "demographic pressures" it means us – you and me – and when it warns that by 2064, 27% of UK citizens will be 65 and over, compared with just 12% in 1961 and 17% now and that the number of over 85s in Britain will almost quadruple in the next 50 years, with one in 12 of us pushing towards 90 – you can guess what’s coming.

For the OBR this is not good news. To them it’s a problem. And we partially solve it by raising the state pension age to 70. And if, as seems likely, the ageing population is greater than the planners envisage (they are forecasting a million people in Britain aged over 100 by the 2050s) then the state pension age will be 75 or even higher.

Notice how it is always a flat rate, across-the-board retirement age that is proposed. No mention of a flexible retirement age depending on your state of health or the type of work you have been doing.

On the one hand we are now being told that old age begins at 80 for our generation – 20 years later than in the 1950s due to people following a healthier, more active lifestyle and working later in life. We are also told that the peak age for gym use has reached 66, with that age group working out 20 times more than teenagers.

With fitter bodies, more active minds, a get-up-and-go spirit, it is said that a new "second life" awaits the over 50s who are now making an annual contribution to the UK economy of £300 billion. Over 50s women alone spent £6.7 billion last year on "fashion", it is said.

Yet there are some media pundits and politicians who brand us as the have-it-all generation. They want us to "curl up and bust", retire and go away. They need to be continually reminded that pensioners are an asset, not a burden to this country.

Nearly two million grandparents, for example, have given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to care for grandchildren, according to an Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by Grandparents Plus, Save the Children and the Family and Childcare Trust.

Some 40% of grandparents who look after their grandchildren – approximately 2.3million people – say they do so to allow the child’s parents to get to work and 17% – nearly 1 million – do so because parents cannot afford childcare.

Back in the 1980s or thereabouts, employers up and down the country could not get rid of their "older workers" quickly enough. Voluntary early retirement was the norm and the company that employed anyone over 50 was the exception. Now they are begging us to work till we drop.

Moody’s, the United States-based credit ratings agency on which governments, banks and businesses depend for financial guidance, is warning that from 2020 economic growth will be 0.9% lower across the world because of "ageing populations", meaning less trade and wealth will be generated.

In the 1950s, life expectancy was about 66 for men in Britain and 70 for women. Today, the figures are closer to 79 and 83 respectively with big increases in costs for pensions and health care needing to be largely met by a shrinking working age population.

To bridge the gap the OBR made one suggesti0n that won’t please the politicians especially with a general election on the horizon. They dare to remind us that the more working age immigrants we have coming in and generating more consumer spending power and taxation revenue to the government, the easier it will be for the rest of the population to meet this "ageing revolution".

Successive governments have known what was coming. Back in 1989 – 25 years ago – I was involved with a Carnegie UK Trust research project which identified a new phenomenon – the growing number of people in their Third Age which we identified as being between 50 and 74.

The politicians failed to consider, let alone introduce, policies that could meet the needs of a super-aged society. They pigeon-holed the problem, passed the buck to their successors, with the result that too many people today have a fear of growing old.

They need reminding that every year pensioners add £40 billion more to the economy in taxation than they take out in benefits. This is the message the National Pensioners Convention will be sending out both on the United Nations’ Older People’s Day on 1 October and when it lobbies Members of Parliament on 5 November.

 

July/August 2014

NHS crisis looms for all ages

On 21 May – on the eve of the recent local council elections – the Enfield Gazette & Advertiser ran a double-decker headline right across the page: ‘Cameron promises funds for primary care after hospital services removed’.

What funds and when was not disclosed. Whether Mr Cameron is confused by the 4.35% increase in funding previously awarded to the Enfield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is unclear. But somebody should tell the Prime Minister that Enfield CCG is still under-funded by £20 million a year and that money for primary care is allocated by NHS England and there’s been no sign of more money for Enfield GPs.

Speaking recently to a director of NHS England, I was told how frustrated they are with government announcements being made without any consultation. For example, when answering Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament on 13 May, Mr Cameron said there’s now a named GP for frail and elderly patients. Now what’s that old saying about ‘the wish being father to the thought’?

Somebody should have told Mr Cameron that the plan announced last January to introduce named GPs for all elderly patients from April had been delayed. We are now told that GPs have been given until 30 June to inform all their patients aged 75 and over who is their ‘dedicated GP personally accountable for their care around the clock’.

After 30 June, every patient reaching the age of 75 must be notified of their named doctor within 21 days. The named accountable GP will “deliver a multi-disciplinary care package that meets the need of the patient, ensure that the physical and psychological needs of the patient are recognised and responded to by the relevant clinician in the practice; ensure the patient aged 75 and over has access to a health check”.

So if you are aged over 75 and have not been informed of your named GP, please ask your surgery why they are lagging behind. If you get no satisfactory answer, please let the Forum office know your name and that of your surgery.

In his interview with the Enfield Gazette & Advertiser, Mr Cameron also said that plans to increase GPs hours across the country would help fill the void left by the closure of the A&E department at Chase Farm Hospital.

Perhaps somebody should tell the Prime Minister that Enfield CCG did not get any of the £50 million Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund to improve GP access. A wide variety of ideas are to be trialled including longer opening hours, better use of technology, appointments through e-mails and video consultations and more flexibility with access.

GP practices in Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge were the only London surgeries awarded new money to improve access to primary care. They will offer weekday appointments between 6.30pm-10pm, with extra urgent appointments at the weekend, in addition to normal GP opening hours.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) representing GPs is up in arms and warning that our local surgeries are ‘teetering on the brink of collapse’. It is claimed that the government raided the GP budget to help pay for the reorganisation of the NHS that was not in any political party manifesto for the 2010 general election – and so nobody voted for it.

GPs claim they receive just 8.39% of the NHS budget although they have first contact with 90% of NHS patients. Although doctors at the recent British Medical Association conference rejected the idea of charging patients up to £25 to consult their GP, it was a sign of the growing financial crisis facing the NHS.

Not so long ago, Lord Warner, the former health minister, proposed a £10 a month membership fee to save the NHS from bankruptcy.

I repeat, our own CCG is under-funded by £20 million a year. The NHS still faces a challenge to save £30 billion by 2020. The Trust Development Authority, which  oversees all hospital budgets, is said to be running a £240 million deficit and another NHS quango, Monitor, is seeking budget cuts at hospitals awarded the coveted foundation status.

The NHS used to receive a real increase in funding – that is above inflation – of some 3% a year. It is now regarded as a special case by getting an increase in government funding tied to inflation – 2.41% last year – but not enough to cover rising demand by an increased and ageing population when costly new treatments are becoming available.

Mr Miliband says that he will see we all get a GP appointment within 48 hours, without telling us where the money and staff is coming from to meet the bill.

The NHS model we have grown to love and admire can, in my view, only be sustained with an injection of new money year on year. It is something that should be at the top of our general election agenda come 2015.

Monty Meth

 

May/June 2014

Can we be trusted with our pension pots?

From April next year, pensioners will no longer be forced to buy an annuity with their pension savings. Is this a sensible way to treat grown-ups, or will it lead to large-scale pensioner poverty?

Lord Turner, the former head of the Pensions Commission and the Financial Services Authority, says that Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to hand retirees the freedom to withdraw their entire pension pot in cash from next year means many could squander their savings. (Sunday Telegraph March 30)

“There’s a danger that people don’t realise how low the state pension is. Fundamentally, when the state single pension comes in, it will keep people out of absolute poverty, but they need to know that’s all it does.” He says the move risks leaving millions of pensioners close to poverty in later life.

George Osborne said people should be trusted to make the right financial decisions – it was their money and up to them how they decided to spend it.
He said his budget would help “responsible” pensioners who had been getting a bad deal from annuities and that the shake-up, which will allow people on low incomes to draw down their funds without paying punitive tax rates, had been welcomed by a wide range of consumer groups.

Pensions minister Steve Webb said it was people’s choice whether to buy Italian Lamborghini sports cars but later admitted that the average pension pot was £25,000 so “not many people will be buying sports cars”.

“It is people’s own money,” he said. “We are not going to cast them adrift. We will guarantee them guidance, information, education but ultimately we are making sure they have a decent state pension but if they want to spend their money sooner rather than later, we are treating people as adults.”

 

 

We fight for fairness

Pension changes will give future generations more choice, but they do not benefit the majority of today’s pensioners

Despite all the recent happy, clappy headlines about a ‘pensioners bonanza’ and a ‘pensions revolution’, this is the right time to remember that today’s 11 million-plus pensioners were not the big winners from the March budget.

In fact, we have been the big losers from the coalition government and Bank of England’s decision to keep interest rates low for the last five years.

True, that from January 2015, if you are aged 65 and over and have £10,000 to spare, you will be able to buy a new “pensioners bond” with an expected interest rate of 2.8% for a one year bond and 4% for a three year bond, but the interest is taxable. That’s it, for those of us now collecting the state pension.

The idea that all older people have vast amounts of money just waiting to invest doesn’t take into account that 29% of pensioner couples have less than £1,500 to their name.

Record low interest rates of 0.5% set by the Bank of England have deprived savers of £326 billion, says the campaign group Save Our Savers. And the National Pensioners’ Convention says that 55% of all pensioners receive less than £10 a week income from savings because interest rates are so low.

Budget aimed at 50 and 60 year olds

Yet lazy press and radio commentators glibly talk about today’s pensioners being the budget “winners” when with a general election now just one year away the budget was really aimed at the next generation of pensioners – people now in their 50s and 60s who from April 2015 will be given the chance to decide for themselves what to do with the pension money they have invested to provide an income for their retirement. Big deal!

Before we throw our hats in the air, let’s place on record what today’s pensioners have lost.

The freezing of the age related personal tax allowance for pensioners is to continue for at least another two years – and indeed, it may never be restored, if the Treasury introduces just one ‘fits all’ personal tax allowance.

Additional support for pensioners through the tax system introduced by Winston Churchill in 1925 have virtually been wiped out, saving the Chancellor £3.3billion by 2016-17 – and costing pensioners between £285 and £322 a year after tax.

Increases lower year after year

The coalition has also changed the inflation measure by which state pension increases are calculated from the Retail Prices Index to the lower Consumer Prices Index, ensuring that pension increases will be lower year after year. And remember, pensioners pay council tax and the VAT man’s 20% on virtually all goods and services we buy.

The placing of universal pensioner benefits – other than the state pension – such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over 75s and concessionary travel in what is called the ‘welfare spending cap’ means that the best that can be hoped for is increases matching the rise in inflation, though gas and electricity prices are expected to grow much faster.

Older people twice as likely to vote

So, because older people are twice as likely to vote as younger people, come the general election, to give the impression that today’s pensioners gained from the budget at the expense of younger people is something we have to vigorously reject.

Though this may well be the reason why David Cameron was again reported in the press on March 25 as suggesting that pensioner “perks” would be protected if the Tories win the coming general election.

I can think of many reasons why the changes in pension rules – so acclaimed by the media and politicians – may have been announced. If people withdraw their pension pot to pay for the social care they may need in later life, that will relieve the government of some of its immediate responsibilities.

Unemployment high amongst 50+

Another reason for the pension changes may be to deal with the problem of unemployment – currently 393,000 amongst the 50+ age group who, if they are unable to find a job, but are a long way off collecting the state pension, may well use their pension money to fund the gap years.

So many people, said the Sunday Times (March 23) are expected to “exercise the new freedom” to take their pension money that the Treasury is predicting a £3billion increase in tax revenues from pensioners from 2015-18 because 75% of the withdrawn pension money will be taxable.

The truth is that nobody really knows how many people will take their pension savings, how quickly they will blow them, how long people will live for and how many will end their days on a state pension worth less than a third of average earnings and unlikely to get much better

Our state pension remains one of the worst in Europe, It has been kept that way by successive governments who preferred to hand out a winter fuel allowance or a free TV licence, which can be withdrawn at any time, rather than have an adequate state pension paid to everyone based on the financial contributions made through national insurance and the contribution made to creating the seventh richest nation in the world.

By Monty Meth

 

March/April 2014

Hands off universal benefits

David Cameron’s promise to retain the “triple lock” protecting the state retirement pension for the life of the next parliament, means that both our main political parties are now guaranteeing to increase the basic rate pension by the highest of average earnings, average price increases or 2.5% until 2020.

While we thank our three Enfield Members of Parliament for supporting  the Forum’s campaign to retain the triple lock guarantee, the next 15 months will  determine  the fate of the other so-called pensioner benefits – the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over 75s and the highly coveted  concessionary travel pass.

Interestingly, The Times reported on January 6 that Mr Cameron was “minded” to renew the commitment he made in 2010 to  ensure that all pensioners  retained their benefits until 2015 - for the life of the next parliament.

There is clearly a battle going on inside the Cabinet with work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith leading the drive for pensioner benefits to be included in the tightly controlled welfare budget. It could lead to many benefits being means-tested to keep costs down as the pensioner numbers grow.

Labour has already said it will embark on the slippery slope of means-testing by removing the winter fuel allowance from pensioners with the highest income, although it is expected to raise less than £100 million a year for the Chancellor,

It is against this background when there is everything to fight for that ‘Hands Off’ a new nation-wide campaign has been launched defending the need for benefits such as the winter fuel payment and the bus pass.

The ‘Hands Off’ campaign, which has already been backed by some of the most influential older people’s organisations in the UK, aims to safeguard benefits such as the winter fuel payment, bus pass, free prescriptions and TV licences after the 2015 general election.

Following comments made by the main political parties at Westminster indicating these benefits may be under threat, the campaign will emphasise their importance in achieving a decent standard of living for millions of pensioners across the UK, whilst also highlighting the costs and barriers associated with means-testing such benefits.

People of all ages are being encouraged to sign an online e-petition and to email their local MP via the campaign website at www.handsoff.org.uk.  The ‘Hands Off’ campaign is being officially backed by the National Pensioners’ Convention, Age Sector Platform in Northern Ireland, the Welsh Senate of Older People and the Scottish Seniors Alliance.

Dot Gibson from the National Pensioners’ Convention said:  “The real reason why pensioners need additional benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and the free bus pass is because our state pension is so poor. 

“Yet despite this, every year older people add an extra £40bn to the economy in taxes, volunteering and unpaid caring.  Universal benefits help to keep people active, independent, warm in their homes, healthy and involved in their communities.

“Removing universal benefits isn’t about saving money or about stopping millionaires from getting a free ride on their local bus – it’s about undermining the welfare state and the principle that services should be available to everyone in retirement. 

“People who make these allegations seem to conveniently forget that many of today’s pensioners experienced real hardship during the war years and all of us can remember the austerity of the post-war period. Universal benefits need to be defended not only for today’s pensioners, but for the pensioners of tomorrow as well.

“Pensioners are tired of feeling like a burden on society; we make a huge contribution and that surely should be recognised,” said Dot Gibson.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.handsoff.org.uk

To sign the petition visit www.handsoff.org.uk/e-petition

You can help by:

• Visiting the www.handsoff.org.uk website

• Signing the online e-petition

• Writing an e-mail or letter to your local MP

• Following the campaign on Twitter @supporthandsoff

• Pledging your organisation/group’s official support for the campaign by emailing info@handsoff.org.uk

• Promoting the campaign amongst your family and friends (anyone of any age can support the campaign)

Monty Meth

 

January/February 2014

2014 Time to start the fight back now

The bells hadn’t started to ring the old year out, never mind the New Year in, before top of the brainwashing agenda for 2014 appeared this headline in The Times: “Pensioners better off as downturn hits workers hard.”

You don’t need a crystal ball to know that throughout this year the ground is going to be prepared by the leading politicians of all three main parties, economists, media pundits, think tanks etc. for an attack leading up to next year’s general election on what is loosely called “pensioner benefits,” as though we haven’t worked and paid for everything we have today.

According to the official Office for National Statistics (ONS), since the banks went bust in 2007 leaving government to bail them out with £37 billion of tax-payers money, working households have seen their incomes fall by 6.4%, but the income of pensioners has risen by more than 5%. Our Chair, John Ball, had a letter published in The Times on December 6 challenging the ONS figures, which though correct, do not tell us anything meaningful about the living standard of individual pensioners.

Without questioning how the ONS figures were arrived at, or what they do or don’t take into account, it was the cue for The Times report to say:

“Experts (unnamed, of course) said that the figures would add weight to the argument in favour of abolishing winter fuel payments and free television licences for better-off pensioners. The issue of means-tested pension benefits will be an important battleground in the next election with the main political parties scrambling to find something to offer working households.”

So let the battle commence. Our campaign to defend pensioner benefits is not a selfish campaign for ourselves; it is being fought for all future generations of pensioners, now having to wait until they are aged 68 or 70 before joining our ranks. We want them to enjoy a long life in retirement with financial and social security that they in turn can pass on to their children and grandchildren.

I don’t want them to pick up a newspaper and see headlines such as “UK’s state pension one of worst in developed world.” (Evening Standard 26/11/13) or “Only Mexicans have a worse state pension deal than the British.” (Daily Telegraph 27/11/13).

We should all challenge those who glibly claim pensioners have never had it so good. So they require to claw back our “generous benefits.” We need to remind them that as part of its austerity cuts programme the government has changed the inflation link for calculating increases in the state pension from the Retail Prices Index to the lower Consumer Prices Index, designed to produce a lower pension increase year after year. Come April the pension goes up 2.7%. If it was still linked to RPI it would be 3.2%.

Faced with a 0.5% bank rate for the last four years, it is estimated that pensioners have lost some £100 billion in interest on their savings and that more older people than ever before are being dragged into the inheritance tax net. Rising house prices are making them liable as the IHT allowance has been frozen at £325,000 since 2011 and will remain there until 2018, while the Chancellor’s much-trumpeted 2007 IHT promise that it would be set at £1million remains a dream.

And then there’s the freeze on age-related allowances which had been in place since introduced by Winston Churchill in 1925, before being suddenly withdrawn last April, hitting nearly 4.5 million pensioners, while saving the Treasury an estimated £3.3 billion a year.

Pensioners aged 65–74 now have their age-related tax allowance frozen at £10,500 a year and £10,660 a year for someone aged 75 and over. This will remain the case until the ordinary tax allowance reaches these levels. Over 114,000 people signed a National Pensioners Convention-backed petition against this cut which has led to pensioners losing between £285 and £322 a year after tax.

We do not doubt that the increase in life expectancy has led to age-related increases in the cost of health care and pensions, but we reject the simplistic, repetitive suggestion that the austerity cuts imposed on pensioners have been negligble. 

We expect our political leaders to be more responsible than to play off one generation against another. We expect them to recognise the economic contribution that older people are making such as the free childcare made by grandparents valued at £3.9 billion a year which helps six out of ten working Mums. This is just one part of the estimated £40 billion a year we contribute to the economy in income tax, VAT, volunteering and social care. 

Cutting the benefits of so-called “wealthy pensioners” is not going to meet the challenge of an ageing population when the number of pensioners is set to grow to 16.1 million in the next 25 years. Or the number of over 80s will more than double to 6.2 million.

Instead of short-term cuts, we need to plan for the long-term future of everyone, young and old. If we stick together we can win together.

Monty Meth

 

November/December 2013

Support our petition and show the NHS belongs to the people

‘The NHS belongs to the people’ is the grandiose title given to a 24 page document issued to both celebrate this year’s 65th birthday  and to alert us to the need for change if the NHS is to survive another 65 years. There is an ageing population – the 100 Club of centenarians has grown fivefold in the past 30 years, so there are now 12,320 men and women of that hardy generation that survived two world wars. 

The government now predicts that there will be 22,000 people over the age of 100 by 2020 and as many as 280,000 by 2050. A quarter of all children born today are expected to live beyond 100. That’s the good news. Not so good is the fact that longer life brings more long-term illness, more hip and knee operations, more mental illness – and all this will cost money. 

Despite the obvious and enormous challenges that lay ahead for government -- whatever its political colour – the document’s authors say: “We do not believe it would be realistic or responsible to expect anything more than flat funding (adjusting for inflation) in the coming years.” 

That is the pessimistic, negative view of ten newly-appointed top executives now controlling the country’s health and care services who, in effect, are running the NHS and relieving Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, of his responsibilities for seeing that our healthcare services are able to meet the needs not just of an ageing population, but of everyone from the cradle to the grave. 

Who are the people who say there’s to be no real increase in health care funding? There’s the chief executives of the Care Quality Commission, the Health and Social Care Information Centre, Health Education England, Monitor, Public Health England, NHS Trust Development Authority, NHS England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the co-chair of NHS Commissioning Assembly steering group and the chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. 

They say they want to design a new and revitalised NHS that serves current and future generations as well as it has served those in the past. But they want us to accept that this can be done without any increase in funding when we are told that Enfield has been under-funded by successive governments for years; when the life expectancy gap is 13 years between east and west of the borough and when we know that the new Enfield NHS CCG is already feeling the draught in its quest for funding from NHS England to commission services at local hospitals. 

That is why the Forum has launched a petition to secure more funding in the coming years for the Borough’s two main providers – public health headed by the council and acute hospital services commissioned by the CCG. 

We cannot really accept NHS bosses telling us that the NHS belongs to the people with one breath and then saying there’s no increase in funding with the next breath. We need to have our say on where the money should be spent particularly when the government is talking about shelling out £50 billion or is it £80 billion on the HS2 train link between London and the North – taking 20 minutes off the journey to Birmingham. 

Or should we have our say on whether we spend £20 billion up to £100 billion on a new Trident missile carrying submarine fleet patrolling the oceans 24 x 7 all year round? Some people might even want to question the £7 million a year subsidy given to MPs and peers to run the restaurants in the Palace of Westminster. 

If the funding allocation for health services in Enfield .is pegged with just an inflation adjustment, cuts are bound to follow. That is why people are so willingly signing our petition. 

People can also sign the petition on line at www.enfieldover50sforum.org.uk/petition.ktm but we need many, many more signatures to make an impact. If everyone gives just a little time and effort we can make that vital difference to the funding allocation for health services in Enfield – and please send your completed forms to the Forum office. 

Monty Meth

 

September/October 2013

Help us to secure the “triple lock” for pensioners of the future

So, what’s the “triple lock”? Do I hear you ask? And is it important?  It was introduced with a big fanfare by the Chancellor, George Osborne, on behalf of the coalition government, in April 2011.

The “triple lock” is the only guarantee we have that the basic state retirement pension will increase every year by either (1) the average increase in earnings, (2) the increase in the consumer price index or (3) a straight 2.5% – whichever is the highest.

We are anxious because George Osborne, in outlining the government’s spending plans for 2015/16 said that, while the basic state pension would not be included in the financial limit he will be placing on welfare spending, he noticeably failed to give a public assurance that the “triple lock” provision is guaranteed.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb has already admitted that, while he would like to see the “triple lock” for the state pension continue after 2015, he could give no guarantee that it will be. So unless we make our feelings known before the next general election in 2015, we could return to the system that existed for 31 years from 1980, when the then government broke the link between pension rises and the increase in average earnings.

Pension increases became determined by the level of price increases – then running much lower than average increases in earnings – and the result is being felt to this day. The National Pensioners Convention estimates that had the link with earnings not been broken in 1980, the state pension today would be at least £50 a week higher.

If that scenario is allowed to be repeated, it will mean that millions of younger people will lose out and be trapped in a different kind of “triple lock”. When they come to retire they will find the basic pension will be lower than it otherwise should be; they will be well past 65 and waiting longer to get their pension; and they will find it even further reduced by the government now linking all benefit increases to the lower Consumer Prices Index instead of the Retail Prices Index.

Our doubts and suspicions about the future of the “triple lock” has increased with reports that despite the cuts and austerity measures, “public finances remain a total wreck, with underlying borrowing forecast to be £120 billion this year.” (The Times, August 3).

Sam Fleming, The Times economics editor, tells us that the government’s take on corporation tax in 2017/18 will be the lowest as a share of national income since the early 1980s. Following the scandalous revelation that a million people are now “employed” on zero hours contracts, coupled with the big increase in part-time work, it means that millions  are earning too little to pay any income tax at all.

According to HM Revenue and Customs estimates, there will be 2.5 million fewer people paying tax in 2012/13 than there were five years earlier – and all this is grist to the mill of those who say the country cannot afford to meet the rising cost of universal benefits to pensioners, including the cost of the “triple lock” for pension increases.

The doom merchants are now busy warning that with 12.2 million people of state pension age today, we won’t be able to afford the pensions bill when in 20 years’ time that number rises to 15.6 million.

The politicians, economists and planners should spend more time getting more people into full-time work, increasing apprenticeships and earnings to the German level and securing the taxes that the big multinationals ought to be paying on their profits. That way, they might give future pensioners the good life to look forward to that they merit.

And the first task for us is to maintain the “triple lock” so that we pass something meaningful on to future generations. To do this we have to ensure that come the 2015 general election, politicians of all parties are committed to its retention.

Monty Meth

 

Live longer with more years of good health

Add healthy years to longer lives - that’s the major campaign theme our Forum will be launching on Friday July 5 at an important conference to be held at the Dugdale Centre in Enfield Town. Keynote speakers are coming from the International Longevity Centre – UK and the new Enfield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).


It has been well-established that people here lag behind many European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia in the number of years of good health we have before we face long-term health problems or disability. Now the facts have been presented in a major new report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation based in Seattle, USA. It revealed that in countries with similar levels of affluence. the UK ranked 12th out of 19 in the years we can enjoy of healthy life expectancy. It means that while life expectancy itself is getting longer, the years of healthy life in which we are free of major illnesses or disability have not really changed in the last 23 years. While life expectancy has increased by 4.2 years in the UK over the last two decades, we can only count on 68.6 healthy years of life before long-term problems or disability sets. Spain topped the league table with 70.9 years of healthy life before disease or disability takes its toll.


Italy came next in the league table with 70.2 years of healthy life and third was Australia with 70.1 years, leaving Britain’s performance of 68.6 healthy years exactly the same as in 1990. It has been described as “shocking” by health minister Jeremy Hunt who called on all the new CCGs who took over responsibility for local health services on April 1, to take action in tackling the five big killers - cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory and liver disease. These five diseases alone account for some 150,000 deaths a year among the under-75s in England and the Department of Health calculates that 30,000 of these lives could be saved if we were doing as well as Sweden. The study also revealed that Britons lose more years to disability than many other countries, including people in Thailand, Mexico and Romania. “For too long we have been lagging behind and I want the reformed health system to take up this challenge and turn this shocking underperformance around,” said Mr Hunt. Hospitals, GPs and local councils now responsible for all public health matters are being urged to play their part in catching up with the rest of the world by 2020.


While the health professionals have a major role in securing that improvement, a great deal can be put down to the way we live – our diet, drinking alcohol excessively, smoking, all play a part .. along with the lifestyles people are forced to follow in the community due to income inequality, unemployment and poverty. The government is reported to be in favour of introducing new regulations for cigarettes to be sold in plain packs, but it appears to be back-tracking on plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol to curb excessive drinking and anti-social behaviour. Cases of cirrhosis of the liver – largely blamed on alcohol - rose by 65% since 1990.


A recent wide - ranging House of Lords inquiry heard startling evidence of the scale of life expectancy changes ahead. Their “Ready for Ageing” report expects that the 20 years from 2010 to 2030 will see a 50% increase in people aged 65 or over and a doubling of people aged 85 and over. The predicted resultant increased demands for health and social care include: people with diabetes up by over 45% people with arthritis, coronary heart disease, stroke each up by over 50% people with dementia (moderate or severe) up by over 80% to 1.96 million people with moderate or severe need for social care up by 90%


This will undoubtedly increase the financial pressures on the NHS and on public funding for social care – and in two decades there will be a doubling in the number of households where disabled elderly people need informal care from their family and friends, said the House of Lords committee. By 2030, men aged 65 will expect to live another 23 years, to 88 and women another 26 years to 91 so people should be enabled to extend their working lives if they wish to do so as a vital part of the response to increased longevity The Lords’ report warns that public expenditure on social and health care for older people may have to rise to £12.7 billion by 2022 – an increase of 37% from £9.3 billion in 2010 – just to keep pace with demographic and cost increases. “The challenges are by no means insuperable, but no government has so far had a vision and a coherent strategy,”says the Lords’ report which recommends, among other more controversial ideas, a ten-year NHS budget to enable them to plan ahead and for the pensions industry to make provision easier to understand so that people get a better idea of the income they will retire with. We are told that more than half as many extra older people will be living with three or more long-term health problems by 2018 compared with 2008. It is to bridge this gap between our health span and our total life span that we have called our important Add Healthy Years to Longer Lives conference on July 5, which I hope many of you will attend.


Be more active – feel better – live longer


Mar/April

NHS shake-up starts to bite

Come April 1, a watershed will be reached in the 65-year life of the NHS. So this is the right time to reflect on the burial of Enfield NHS Primary Care Trust and the birth of a completely new regime bringing changes and challenges we will all have to grapple with and understand.


Just over six months ago we saw the creation of the NHS celebrated in that memorable Olympic opening ceremony, only to be followed by the new Health and Social Care Act 2012 being introduced by a government promising “no top down reorganisation”, but which is now giving us a new look NHS that will have to tackle the nationwide fall-out from the shattering Stafford Hospital scandal. 
Behind the fine words of “rising to the challenge of delivering better quality care in a tighter financial environment” lies a host of new boards and hundreds of highly paid directors and managers. We list a few of them, but new ones are regularly seeing the light of day.
We now have a National Quality Board, chaired by Sir David Nicholson, to ensure that patients have the central role in the oversight, scrutiny and design of high quality services. Sir David will also chair the National Commissioning Board (NCB) which former health minister David Owen says is the largest quango ever created.


With a budget of £126 billion, it will control some 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups around the country - including the GP-led Enfield NHS CCG - that will be taking over the work of the soon to be disbanded primary care trusts. By mid-December the NCB was employing 604 people. Among the job titles and salaries we have noted are a chief executive - £220,000, director of patient experience - £132,500, deputy medical director - £132,500, director of the chair and chief executive’s office - £120,000, director of insight (whatever that means) - £102,500, director of customer relations - £115,000


There’s an organisation called Monitor to regulate all NHS-funded care and it will issue licences to hospitals seeking Foundation status, meaning they are completely independent, profitable and free of any central control or direction. And helping them will be the NHS Trust Development Authority checking the performance of NHS hospitals and help them to achieve this Foundation status.
There’s also to be a National Institute for Care and Health, setting standards for local public health and social care; the Care Quality Commission is being retained and we’ll have a Health Service Ombudsman handling complaints from individuals.
On top of all this there’s to be a new network of local Quality Surveillance Groups due to go live on April 1 acting as a forum on health and care. Its remit is to share intelligence and information, be open and honest in ensuring all health and care sectors co-operate at every level of the system.


In its recent mid-term review, the coalition government promises that the measures contained in its new Health and Social Care Act will help deliver: “better health, better care and better value for money, encouraging greater focus on preventing ill-health and empowering local communities to plan services according to local priorities.”


The benefits they hope to achieve from this reorganisation are:
* Greater consistency and fairness in access and provision for patients, with an end to unjustifiable variations in services and a reduction in health inequalities
* Better health outcomes for patients as primary care clinicians are empowered to focus on delivering high quality, clinically-effective, evidence-based services
* Greater efficiencies in the delivery of primary care health services through the introduction of standardised frameworks and operating procedures.


Our Forum has pledged to help achieve these aims, but it takes two to tango. And it is no secret that we are far from content with the level of consultation involving patients and the public in the new forms of health care delivery now being locally planned.
We heed the strong words of the Prime Minister that the patients’ voice must in future be taken seriously. So the new local Healthwatch organisations must be fit for purpose; robust, independent, credible, effective and unlike its three predecessor bodies which lacked the power to protect patients.


When discussing the public inquiry report into the despicable patient neglect at the mid-Stafford hospital, both Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband agreed that the big and continuing increase in the ageing population will bring new challenges to the long-term care provided by the NHS


If there is one lesson we all need to learn from the appalling negligence and deaths on a massive scale in the Stafford hospitals scandal, it is that honesty and truth must be paramount. The powers that be in Enfield need to know that this Forum will not be bullied into silence by anyone.

Jan/Feb 2013

Get healthy, stay healthy, live longer

That’s the message taking pride of place on the Forum’s agenda for 2013. The challenge we have set ourselves is to get many more people to see the benefit of using exercise and physical activity as a means of achieving a healthier lifestyle

A combination of fantastic facilities available at our newly-modernised leisure centres and an expanding programme of gyms in the park have almost certainly made Enfield one of the top places in the country where taking exercise either indoors or in the open air is the easiest road to better health.

But are we taking full advantage of these facilities when in many parts of the country budget cuts are forcing swimming pools and sports centres to close?

New evidence is emerging that stepping up exercise levels among the over 50s is likely to cut your chances of a heart attack in later life. Just two and half hours of moderate activity a week appears sufficient to suppress inflammation in the body and so help the heart to grow old healthily.

The evidence coincides with completion of the £10 million upgrading of our leisure centres which is now being matched by more outdoor gyms in our parks, each costing an average £35,000 for the apparatus and resurfacing – and they are proving exceedingly popular while being regularly used by both young and old.

The importance of physical exercise has been dramatically illustrated by new research carried out by Dr Alan Gow, senior research fellow in the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiolog,y, and Dr Mark Hamer, associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College, London.

In separate studies they demonstrated that brain shrinkage – a key sign of memory loss and dementia – is less with people exercising regularly and also that exercise protects the heart. The positive long-term effects of leading an active lifestyle also reduces the inflammation which contributes to heart disease..

Currently the following Enfield parks now have outdoor gyms: Elsynge Golden Jubilee, Craig, Broomfield, Ponders End and Albany (only three pieces of equipment as part of a playground upgrade). Apparatus for Bush Hill Park and the Enfield Playing Fields is in the process of being ordered

“I believe these Gyms in the Park are the ideal way of exercising and of course they are free to users. It is part of this Council’s health agenda to place this apparatus in parks where they are requested. If Forum members have any ideas where they can be placed then please contact me  at the Civic Centre, Silver Street,  Enfield and we’ll see what we can do. The Residents Priority Fund has been extremely helpful in funding these projects,” said councillor Chris Bond, the cabinet member for environment.

“Basic kit for the outdoor gyms consists of approximately ten individual pieces of apparatus - normally a mix of arm/leg/strength equipment, but the Friends of the Park usually have the final say. The equipment is incredibly well used all year round and probably by on average 100 users per day in Pymmes and Broomfield, for example,” said senior projects partnership manager James Downing.

Dr Gow’s evidence that exercise is critical for brain health is based on long-term research involving 638 people born in 1936. Results showed that after three years people who participated in more physical activity experienced less brain shrinkage than those who barely exercised.

Those doing more exercise also had greater volumes of grey matter in the brain, showing that fewer brain cells had died. Dr Gow’s findings were published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology and followed MRI scans over the three-year study.

Dr Gow said: “Our results show that regular exercising in old age is poetentially important to protect the brain as we age.”  Age UK head of research, Professor James Goodwin, advisory board  member of the journal ‘Ageing Horizons’ at Oxford University who also sits on the UN Agenda for Ageing panel, said this research is exciting as it provides vital clues on the way the brain ages and how we can tackle mental decline.

“If we can definitely establish that exercise provides protection against mental decline, it could open the door to exercise programmes tailored to the needs of people as they age.

“We already know that exercise is important in reducing our risk of some illnesses that come with ageing such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. This research re-emphasises that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise. “So whether it is a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that those of us who can, get active as we grow older,” said Professor Goodwin.

The simple message being relayed to us by the health professionals is that it is especially important for older people to be physically active because it contributes to successful ageing. Donning those gardening gloves, even picking up a paint brush can go a long way to looking after your heart health.

 

 

Nov/Dec 2012 Newsletter

The case for universal benefits

More than 7,000 people have signed our Defend Pensioners Benefits petition – and completed forms are still coming in. Pride of place must go to Peter Armstrong, chair of the Friends of Jubilee Park, whose members collected more than 1,750 signatures and they are still counting! This is by far the best response we’ve had to a petition and demonstrates the strength of feeling in support of universal benefits.

It is time to take the gloves off, time to make a stand and defend all pensioners against the drip, drip attacks from the press, politicians and so-called think-tanks, all seeking to undermine or even end entitlements such as the free bus pass and winter fuel allowances.

It is a clever campaign, seeking to lull us into total complacency as we are all being assured there’ll be no changes before 2015. But what happens after that? Can we get the same "no change" assurances from the politicians that were given to us before the last general election?

It is a clever campaign in that it seeks to pose totally false questions such as: Why should millionaires such as Lord Sugar get a free bus pass or Sir Paul McCartney get the winter fuel allowance? Of course, there’s no evidence that they claim these benefits, but it is being used as a weapon to end benefits going to every pensioner and to introduce widespread means-testing.

This will really only save real money if support is withdrawn from anyone with an annual income of little more than £7,500. The idea that benefits should only be withdrawn from "wealthy pensioners" is flawed. When I challenged Nicholas Boles MP, the newly-appointed planning minister and one of the main advocates of this change, to define "wealthy" he replied: "currently those earning more than £42,475 a year."

But writing in The Times (October 1), Dr Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, says only 2% of pensioners pay top-rate tax. Even the top 20% of single pensioners have an average income of just over £20,000 a year. The government’s own estimate given in a parliamentary reply showed that: 6.4 million pensioners have an income below £10,500 a year and pay no tax 4.5 million pay tax at the standard rate 94% of pensioners have an income of between £5,200 and £40,000.

So targeting so-called wealthy pensioners alone will not produce the revenue to solve the nation’s economic woes. The number of wealthy pensioners is being deliberately exaggerated – hence our claim that the attack on pensioner universal benefits is in essence a smokescreen to attack and hurt some of our most vulnerable older people.

This is not a party political issue. While coalition Cabinet ministers such as Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith publicly use the wealthy pensioners argument to attack universal benefits, a Guardian headline (October 4) also said: "Labour looks at curbs on universal benefits to pay for social care."

It quoted Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary as saying: "There’s always been a balance in the welfare state between universal benefits and targeted benefits, and I am afraid as part of Ed Balls’ zero-based spending review that balance has got to be looked at."

Politicians of every colour must know that the money saved in attacking universal benefits would be too little to have any economic impact. To raise a larger sum of money the net would have to be cast much wider and set at the level of pension credit – around £7.500 a year.

Yet it is widely acknowledged that a means-tested system of paying benefits costs about ten times as much as universal payments. It will require the introduction of a large army of bureaucrats to administer the system which would eat into any savings from scrapping universal benefits.

It is also well documented that pension credit and other benefits have failed to reach the very people they are intended to help because a combination of pride, distrust, privacy and complexity prevents some two million eligible people from claiming what is rightfully theirs. In fact, £4.5 million of means-tested pensioner benefits went unclaimed in 2008-9.

And the same would no doubt apply if the bus pass and winter fuel allowances were means-tested with the result that yet more elderly people would find themselves becoming lonely and ill, creating even more pressure on an already over-burdened health and social care service - and no doubt adding to the 26,156 excess winter deaths among elderly people in 2010-11.

What about the argument that the cost of pensions, welfare payments and health care for elderly people at around £136.2 billion a year is too big and we haven’t taken our share of the cuts that are mainly falling on younger families? In the national and local taxes we pay, our spending power including VAT, formal and informal volunteering and through providing unpaid care, it is estimated that older people now contribute some £175.8 billion a year to the national economy.

So older people are in fact making a significantly higher annual contribution of some £40 billion a year to the national economy than we take out. And many Forum members have told us that if they lose the bus pass they would have to cease volunteering and unpaid caring.

In addition, older people are being hit every year by seeing their annual state pension increase linked to the lower Consumer Prices Index. So its value will fall an expected 10% every decade, for ever. And there’s even suggestions that pension increases might in future be linked to the even lower wage increase index – meaning even less spending power for pensioners. Judge for yourself what this would mean. Food prices have shot up 28.7% since August 2007. Average weekly pay on the other hand has increased by less than 10%.

We know too that the value of hard-earned pensioner savings is shrinking. Which? the consumer watchdog, found that 865 out of 1,092 savings accounts actually reduced in value due to inflation and poor interest rates. We have seen the winter fuel allowance reduced, age-related tax allowances frozen, cuts in social care. So we are bearing our share of the government’s austerity programme.

And if ministers and the media are truly outraged by the super-rich claiming benefits, why not use the tax system on those say with incomes of £100,000 plus to claw back the money, instead of resorting to mean-testing millions of pensioners, while at the same time cutting the taxes of the super-rich?

Let’s remember that the £10 Christmas bonus and the paltry 25p extra weekly pension at 80 were only introduced because the state pension was so low, being among the lowest in Europe. Successive governments of every political colour have used these and other universal benefits to save them from improving the basic state pension system. In defending them now we are putting a marker down for the next general election – politicians beware of pensioners voting power.

Monty Meth

Sept/Oct  2012 newsletter

Loneliness the hidden threat to good health

Loneliness should be considered a major health issue and yet, unlike smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol, it is still being widely ignored by the health professionals. Yet thousands of single, elderly, people live lonely lives, in a home where the phone seldom rings; where there’s nobody for company

Our Forum was one of the first to register its support for the Campaign to End Loneliness which has now launched a new digital toolkit for local health organisations and councils, enabling them to improve the way they tackle loneliness among elderly people.

It follows international research which found that loneliness can lead to poor mental health including depression and dementia, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and general cognitive decline. Socially isolated and lonely adults are also more likely to require early admission to residential or nursing care homes.

The research revealed that:

             Those who are lonely are at the highest risk of the onset of disability

             People  who are deaf or blind are at considerable risk of loneliness

             51% of people aged 75 and over live alone

             Over 5 million people say that TV is their main companion

             Nearly one in ten older person feels cut off from society

 

With up to 10% of older people in the UK estimated to be intensely lonely and a further 20% mildly lonely, health officials are being urged to do more to identify those at risk of loneliness and take action to tackle the problem.

With an estimated 17% of older people being in contact with family and friends for less than once a week and 11% less than once a month, it is felt that GPs have a particular responsibility to observe the adverse effects of loneliness among their patients.

They can quickly identify signs of depression and the lack of physical activity and can use their influence to make tackling loneliness an equal public health priority as smoking cessation and reducing obesity.

The new loneliness and isolation toolkit will enable health and wellbeing boards to identify those most at risk and help prioritise the hardest to reach. More information about the toolkit can be found at www.campaigntoendloneliness.org.uk/toolkit

Forum fights loneliness

Through its many social activities and meetings, the Forum offers everyone the chance to participate and engage in friendship with other people. So there is really no need for anyone to feel out of touch, cut off from the rest of us, feel trapped in their own home.

We have a poetry group, a book club, an after school hours woodworking and handicrafts class and a knitting circle. Every Monday morning there is an Over 50s film club at Cineworld, Southbury Road and Monday to Thursday there are special Over 50s activity days at four leisure centres in the borough.

Yes, we do also understand that people can’t be active all the time. Felicity Green, a one-time top Daily Mirror columnist, said when she was widowed: “I’ve plenty of people to do things with, but no one to do nothing with.” Not everyone wants to share their house with lodgers or take in students, but we can still do all we can to stop loneliness becoming an unsung health hazard.

We have a list of clubs affiliated to the Forum offering the widest possible range of sporting and other activities. And we have trips to London venues making good use of the Freedom Pass. And whenever we can find the funds, we organise a special event for people living alone. So there really is no need to be lonely when the Forum is around.

Monty Meth

July/August 2012 Newsletter

Hands off pensioners’ benefits

They are all at it. Pick up a newspaper ranging from the so-called left wing Guardian to the right wing Sun or The Times in the middle and they are all telling the government it is time to “ditch the rich pensioners.”  

Then there’s the politicians, Nick Clegg from the Lib-Dems, Lord Warner, the former Labour Health Minister and Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory work and pensions secretary, all singing the same song that it’s time to end free bus passes, scrap winter fuel allowances and cut  free TV licences.

Firing  ammunition are the “think tanks” mostly staffed by bright young university graduates who like to make the headlines by what they call “blue sky thinking.” The Social Market Foundation, for example, wants to cut out free bus passes for everyone and free TV licences and winter fuel payments to “better off pensioners” to help fund a £50 billion infrastructure investment.

The Nuffield Trust wants to see  “middle class pensioners” pay more taxes or lose the winter fuel allowances and free bus passes to help meet the rising cost of social care for the elderly  or they want to make pensioners that work pay National Insurance again. So here’s the so-called “rich and middle income” pensioners being asked to find the money to both rescue the economy from the doldrums and fund the mounting cost of caring for the aged.

Yet a recent Ministerial reply in parliament recorded that 25% of pensioners had an annual income of £10,400 or less; 47% had an income between £10,400 and £20,800. Of the remainder, only 6% of pensioners about half a million people - had incomes of over £40,000 a year.

So what we are seeing is this mounting rhetoric to cut back on pensioner benefits by the age-old attempt to split and divide retired people, weaken our resolve, so that come the next election the promises made by the politicians before the May 2010 elections can be quietly buried.

Let’s just remind ourselves of the words in the coalition agreement signed by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg. It says:

“The Government believes that older people deserve dignity and respect in old age, and that they should be provided with the support they need. That means safeguarding key benefits and pensions and taking actions to make it easier for older people to work or volunteer. We will protect key benefits for older people.”

No mention here of segregating rich, middle income and poorer pensioners – getting us to argue amongst ourselves about whether the winter fuel payment should be means-tested. And at the same time we would be forgetting that in fighting to retain what we now have, we are seeking to ensure that future generations of retirees will continue to enjoy the benefits we have secured.

So it is timely that the Forum is now circulating a petition launched by the National Pensioners Convention protesting at the unfair attacks being made upon us and calling on Parliament to oppose any changes in the benefits we have campaigned for over the years.

As part of this campaign, the NPC will be urging all its supporters to join a mass rally in London on Saturday 20 October to send a “hands off” warning to the politicians of all three main parties.

The Daily Telegraph says “the  cost of welfare payments to pensioners” is £100 million and adds “that a significant part of which goes to those who do not need it”.  No mention here of the annual loss in state pension increases already being taken from us by the switch from the Retail Prices Index to the lower Consumer Prices Index in measuring inflation; no mention either of the freeze on age related tax allowances.

No credit is given to the fact that we paid National Insurance contributions for  all our working lives, paid our taxes and are still contributing massively in so many ways to the country’s economy. For instance, people over aged 65 already account for a third of all carers providing more than 50 hours of care a week.

At the same time the value of informal child care by thousands of grandparents is put at around £4billion a year. In total, it is estimated in a University of London report that the over 65s made a positive net contribution to the economy in 2010 of £40 billion and that is after deduction of pension, welfare and health service costs  and this will probably reach a staggering £80 billion by 2030.

That’s more than enough to pay for all the so-called “perks” for today’s pensioners  and all those coming after us.

Monty Meth  

May/June 2012 Newsletter

 

Don’t blame us for living longer– we’re putting more into Britain than we take out!

 

It’s about time that we hit back hard against that unholy alliance of politicians and economists who claim that older people are a burden on the country because we are part of an ageing population, pushing up the cost of pensions and health care to unaffordable limits.

This is the dangerous line trotted out by our Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) – a quango created to advise Chancellor George Osborne – and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which apparently takes no account of the economic benefits contributed to the economy by older people. It’s dangerous because it places our generation against our younger families.

David McCullough, the new head of the WRVS which has some 48,000 social care volunteers, said: “When the NHS was founded half the population didn’t reach 65. Now we are living much longer, this is something that is a triumph rather than a disaster”.

The WRVS produced a powerful in-depth report - barely reported in the national press - which found that in 2010, the over 65s through their taxes, spending power, provision of social care and the value of their volunteering, made a contribution of at least £40 billion to the UK economy. We helped the country financially through our spending money, bequests to organisations, gifts and donations to worthy causes – and invested savings.

Britain has some six million unpaid carers and Carers UK in a 2011 report said this was saving the government an average £18,473 a year for each of them – a total of £119bn. Here in Enfield, there are over 29,000 people living in the borough who provide unpaid care for their family, friends or neighbours. Based on the above calculation that means they are saving the government approximately £473 million a year.

Also in Enfield there are 2,695 volunteers – including many Forum members – who have so far received the 100 hours a year LBE volunteering award and the scheme is still running and saving the council and government even more money. And there are countless more unpaid volunteers in local schools, hospitals and voluntary groups beavering away week after week.

There are some 822 carers in Enfield who freely give more than 50 hours care a week, 2,850 carers provide care for 20-49 hours per week and the remaining 16,641 carers do so for under 20 hours per week. 11% of carers say they suffer from poor health because of their caring role, which is never noted by those eager to denigrate older people.

The WRVS estimates that by 2030 the positive net contribution of the over 65s will grow from the current £40 billion to £77 billion, because people will remain healthier for longer and thus creating more opportunities to work longer, pay taxes and increase volunteering.

About 5.6 million people receiving the basic state pension pay income tax yet this is never mentioned. In fact, for them the recent £5.30 a week increase was reduced to £4.24 after tax was deducted. And well over one million pensioners are higher rate taxpayers – all putting money back into the Treasury coffers.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, says that we all need to start appreciating the contribution older people make to society. “The figures show that after the state has paid pensioners, for example, in pensions and bus passes, they are still making a net contribution of £40 billion.

“Many carry out voluntary and charity work of some kind, while others care for their grandchildren or their spouses, families and each other. The state does not do that. Old people are making a massive contribution to society that is too often hidden.”

Every year more older people are getting involved in community organisations, taking on formal volunteering roles that are estimated to save the economy at least £10 billion a year.

Alan Walker, professor of social policy at Sheffield University and director of the New Dynamics of Ageing says:: “It is time that British society caught up with the remarkable changes taking place among the older population, by creating the possibility for active and healthy ageing to be the norm.

“Age is still invariably associated with decline. Look at the adjectives used to describe ageing – retired, dependent, redundant. That kind of term implies that older people are on the sidelines, somehow useless.”

In fact, more over 65s are working than ever before – and paying their taxes. In the last ten years the number in work has shot up by 358.000 - from 418,000 to 776,000 - according to the Office of National Statistics. Commenting on the figures, the Spectator magazine said the idea that over-65s are a burden on the young does not stand up to scrutiny

“The changing nature of the British workforce has not just meant Polish plumbers, but also British pensioners behind the tills of Tesco. Indeed, many employers prefer to hire pensioners because they can be relied upon to turn up on time and don’t turn their noses up at work.”

One in eight women now work past the age of 70, while one in ten men do the same. Despite these facts and figures we have the OBR issuing reports that produce press headlines warning of tough times ahead to pay for an ageing population and Britain faces an era of austerity as it grows old. The Washington-based IMF tells its 180 plus member countries to act now to reduce the huge cost of ageing populations which for the UK would mean public debt rising by £750 billion.

Our answer must be to show the positive contribution we are making every day. We are the first generation of older people to be healthier, more active, more independent, better educated and skilled than any previous over 50s generation. Without us Britain would be a lot poorer and it’s time this was more widely recognised.

Monty Meth  

March/April 2012 Newsletter

Hurrah for the centenarians!

There will be plenty to cheer this year with the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for H.M The Queen, diverting us from the gloom on the economic and jobs front. But there’s something else we’ll be welcoming and that’s the great news : Ten million people alive today will live to be 100 or more years old.

And this includes 1.3 million of us who are already aged between 51 and 63. The statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions make wonderful news for families, but they are all too familiar and frightening for the politicians, economists  and actuaries who have to live with the consequences and are among those who fail to cheer because they are doing all too little to meet this new phenomenon.

Ten million people are now aged 65 and over in the UK. By 2034, 23% of the population will be over 65 and of them 3.5 million will be over 85.

In 1911 there were just 100 centenarians living in England and Wales, a figure which grew to 9,000 in 2006 and represented a 90-fold increase over the previous 100 years. There was a fourteen-fold increase in male centenarians and a 23-fold increase in female centenarians over the last 50 years of the 20th century.

The number of people aged over 100 is expected to nearly double between 2030 and 2035, when it is projected there will be 97,300 centenarians in the UK. It is then expected to more than double again during the next decade, to stand at 202,100 by 2045.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that by 2066 there will be at least 507,000 people in the UK aged 100 or over, including 7,700 super centenarians who are aged 110 or over. By 2080, there may be 626,900 people aged over 100. 21,000 of these will be over 110.

Even the conservative estimates for the growth in the number of the oldest old will have a significant impact on services. Yet whilst policy makers seem aware of the growth in the number of people living to 100, there has been little or no explicit exploration about the impact of the growth in numbers of the oldest old on public policy.

The International Longevity Centre UK has studied this massive achievement in ageing and concludes that centenarians represent one of the fastest growing, although least understood, sections of the population.

They want to see more understanding and research undertaken into the health and social care, housing and wealth, quality of life, housing and the impact of disability on the oldest old and whether they will live to be centenarians – which will create its own impact on society.

Is anyone out there, for example, considering that centenarians are the most likely of any group to be living in residential care and to have exhausted their financial resources to pay for a long stay?

Or put another way, how can we make sure that the increase in life expectancy  by centenarians and the oldest old will be matched by an increase in healthy life expectancy, now only considered to be enjoyed until the age of 63 – after that too often it is just more  pills and potions!

It is not as though the politicians are unaware of these developments. Professor Tom Kirkwood, director of Newcastle University’s Institute of Ageing and Health and one of the world’s leading experts in this field says:

“Human life expectancy continues to increase at the rate of two or more years per decade – or an amazing five hours each day. People often say that how long and healthy they will live is all determined by their genes.

“This leads to the fatalistic attitude that the body is programmed to age and die, driven by some inner biological clock. In fact, genetics accounts only for about a quarter of what determines the length of life.

“Three-quarters is controlled by factors that are under individual control, such as nutrition and lifestyle, says Professor Kirkwood.

And the final word comes from Yale University’s Dr Becca Levy  urging us to be positive about ageing health.  Challenge the negative messages spreading alarm and despondency about ageing. Find ways of being useful to others. Help your friends deal with any problems. Help an organisation to meet the needs  of your community.

By making  a contribution to the wellbeing of others, a contribution will be made to your own wellbeing, says Dr Levy.  

Jan/Feb 2012 Newsletter

NHS faces 2012 funding fiasco

Despite the outlook for the next six years being one of promised austerity and cuts, we are told that the NHS budget is protected and remains broadly unchanged. Indeed, Prime Minister David Cameron said on December 7 it would actually increase every year during the life of this Parliament. So that’s alright then, but what’s the real outlook for Enfield?

Here we are a diverse, multi-cultural community of some 300,000 people with universally acknowledged inequalities in wealth and health between the east and west of the borough.

Yet we have the third lowest funding for public health in London at £57.7 per head of population against an average of £87.4. Just think what that £30 gap – equal to £9 million a year - could do to close the 10 year difference in life expectation between Edmonton and Hadley Wood – one of the worst differentials in London.

Across all health services in the borough, we are under-funded by an estimated £70.5 million a year. But instead of getting funding commensurate with  boroughs of a similar size and health needs, NHS Enfield has to make cuts of £11.2 million in the current financial year to finish in April with a deficit of £18.8 million.

Instead of expanding the health checks programme to identify early warnings of stroke, heart attack or diabetes, controlling  blood pressure and cholesterol and increasing the depth and reach of the stop smoking programme - smoking is the cause of up to half of the difference in life-expectancy - we are seeing budget cuts and far too little emphasis on prevention and stopping people from smoking.

Our GPs are under severe pressure to cut the medicines bill, to encourage patients not to use NHS prescriptions for over-the-counter medicines for those patients they assess  can afford to pay. They are being told that every time they send a patient to a consultant it costs the NHS £141 and every time a patient attends A&E the bill is £71.

And that pressure will grow if under the new system our local GPs are given a local health spending annual budget which the Forum has been told will be in the region of £20 -£25 per head – and is less than they are now receiving.

No doubt this all comes under the heading of “efficiency savings”. But take the case of our Forum member Mr K. He is a patient at a Winchmore Hill GP practice. He developed  carpel tunnel syndrome a few months ago and his GP doubted whether the practice could afford the necessary operation.

The practice applied to the North London group of primary care trusts and recently it had a reply from their headquarters  at Stevenson House in Camden denying him the operation as it wasn’t urgent.

He is in pain and has some sleepless nights and there appears to be no other treatment. So he can either join a lengthening waiting list or pay himself for private treatment – and that example can no doubt be repeated time and again.

So we want our local GPs to join with us in demanding adequate funding in 2012 to do their job. This is in their interests and ours. They need the money to provide a top-rate health service and we need them to have the resources to provide top class patient care.

Meanwhile, a row is brewing between the BMA representing the majority of GPs in England and the government over plans that are likely to lead to support services for clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England being provided solely by large commercial organisations after 2016.

Primary care trust (PCT) clusters are now forming commissioning support units and, from 2016, would be encouraged to form social enterprises and partner with the private sector, rather than remaining part of the NHS family.

The BMA said in a statement that in view of the implications of the recently published Department of Health document ‘Developing Commissioning Support: Towards Service Excellence’, BMA Council:

·                     publicly announces its opposition to the whole Health and Social Care Bill

·                     calls for rapid organisation of a public campaign of opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill.

November/December 2011 Newsletter

Pensions: Government moves the goalposts

Linking the basic state retirement pension to a lower inflation measure next year is estimated to save the government about £250 million – equal to a loss of nearly £21 by each of the nearly 12 million pensioners.

This has arisen because the government without any warning or consultation has switched the inflation calculator from the retail prices index (RPI) to the lower consumer prices index (CPI). The inflation increase calculated for the year to September 2011 was 5.2% for CPI and 5.6% for RPI – the highest inflation of any major Western economy – and it is the CPI figure that will be used to calculate most state benefits.

The RPI September increase was the biggest for 20 years and reflected the soaring price of essentials such as food, heating and lighting. It means the cost of living is rising well ahead of wage increases averaging 2.5%, thus squeezing living standards even harder.

The state retirement pension for an individual is currently £102.15  a week. If it is linked to the September CPI figure it will go up by £5.30 next April to £107.45 against £5.85 had the RPI figure been used. The difference does not look great, but cumulatively it adds up to a tidy sum – and this loss lasts for as long as your pension is paid.

The biggest change to the pensions and benefits system so far implemented by the coalition government has been through the switch in linking increases to the lower consumer prices index, rather than the retail prices index.

“This apparently small technical change will have big long-term effects,” says Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This decision to move the pension goalposts has been challenged in the courts through a judicial review hearing at the end of October, the result of which was not known before our Newsletter was printed.

The second moving of the goalposts could come if the strong hints reported in the press that different criteria from the link with the September inflation figure should be used to calculate the 2012 increase in benefits.

The Daily Telegraph reported on 19 October that: “Downing Street refused to rule out using an average of inflation over the past six months to set benefits… the final decision is something that happens in the autumn,” a spokesman said..

Under the headline: “Setting benefits by inflation is unfair,”  the Telegraph estimated it will cost up to £2 billion in extra benefit costs next year if what the paper insultingly calls “state handouts” rise in line with inflation. That could mean benefits rising by triple the average wage increase

It reported that senior MPs as saying this would be unfair and that a lower rate of inflation should be used to calculate next year’s benefits rise. The Telegraph quoted Mr James Wharton, a conservative MP on the Commons public accounts committee, as saying: “the CPI figures were distorted and calling on the coalition to find a new measure of inflation for updating benefits.

“We need to find a measure that takes into account not just a snapshot of inflation for one month, which may be artificially high, but reflects the prices that people are actually paying.”

But then contradicting this line of thinking, a Telegraph editorial said that for older people, particularly those on fixed incomes or reliant on savings income, the figures are disastrous. “Rarely has prudence been more severely punished.”

The Times reported that any change in using the September inflation rise to calculate pensions and benefits increases “would risk a damaging battle with pensioners.”  It quoted Ros Altmann of the over 50s group Saga as saying that abandoning the September yardstick would be “short-termist and dangerous.”

David Smith, chair of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) in Devon, said in a letter published by The Times that a single pensioner’s weekly guaranteed minimum income is £137.35, but the official poverty level is £178 a week and 83% of pensioner households receive the majority of their income from state pensions or benefits.

The NPC’s three main policy points are:

·                     Raising the state pension for everyone above the official poverty level of around £178 a week (60% of median population income before housing costs)

·                     Introducing good quality care through a national care service, funded through general taxation

·                     Helping pensioners combat fuel poverty by paying a winter fuel allowance of £500 to all pensioner households

September/October 2011 Newsletter  

Millions more to face fuel poverty

The number of households in fuel poverty – meaning they spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills – has been estimated to reach one in four this coming winter. That’s 12 million people and it follows the latest hike in prices announced by the energy companies.

Fuel-poor households increased by 1 million to 5.5 million between 2008 and 2009. And they are sure to rise again following increases of 18% on gas prices and 11% for electricity being imposed this coming winter. Household energy bills have rocketed by 71% in just over five years and it is estimated that 15% of middle-class homes are in fuel poverty.

There are just six major energy supply companies controlling 99% of the UK energy market. There’s a mass of different tariffs and so-called discounts for an on-line account, direct debit,  duel-fuel customers – and to add to the confusion there’s the inconvenience of cold calling salesmen knocking on our doors  at night with “money saving” offers.

Many Forum members will be customers of EON, the German-owned utility group, and they will see their energy bills rise by an average 15% this winter – gas goes up 18.1% and electricity by 11.4%. People with dual-fuel contracts face a 15.2% rise with an average householder paying £1,250 a year – twice the amount they were paying six years ago.

The increased energy charges will be felt at the same time as the government is cutting the winter fuel payments scheme. Pensioners aged 80 and over will get £100 less this year and households with at least one person over 60 will lose £50.

People living in fuel poverty are more likely to suffer from poor health. Living in a cold home can be a health risk including depression, stress, falls, high blood pressure strokes and heart attacks.

Forum member Major Peter Horsfall MBE, who served with the Coldstream Guards for 34 years, has written to the Prime Minister saying: “I know all about the “national debt” but you could not have cut the winter fuel allowance at a worse time. The cost of fuel has doubled in recent years”,

Incomes have not doubled and although the energy companies blame the increase on rising wholesale prices  - which they are passing on to consumers – the fact is, according to Consumer Focus, wholesale prices are one third lower now than they were three years ago.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, the industry watchdog, said: “Many consumers worry how they will afford to keep their homes warm this winter, given other price rises  and flat or falling incomes. Customers will feel they didn’t get the benefit when wholesale costs were low. Wholesale costs are around a third lower than their 2008 peak yet consumer prices have reached an all-time high.”

There is mounting pressure on the government and the energy industry regulator Ofgem to investigate profits and prices by referring the Big 6 energy suppliers to the Competition Commission. Meanwhile, accountants BDO  have been told by energy regulator Ofgem to look at the trading profits of the Big Six, their wholesale prices and  their hedging practices and see if they are justified in raising prices.

There are calls too for a total ban on doorstep selling by the energy companies after Southern Electric was found guilty of deliberately misleading householders. An inquiry in 2008 found that 48% of gas customers and 42% of electricity customers were worse off after switching supplier through a doorstep pitch.

There is also a need to clean up the hotch-potch of variable tariffs so that people have a clearer understanding of what they are getting for their money and consideration could be given to the introduction of a dual-heat pensioners tariff, subsidised by the Big 6 energy companies and the government.

Monty Meth

NB. All British Gas and electricity customers are being offered free loft and cavity wall insulation. They say £1 in every £4 spent on heating is wasted because of poor insulation. Call 0800 107 5646 for details

July/August 2011 Newsletter

Decent pensions for all

No matter which way you look, the Government is seeking to rewrite the rules on pensions. In fact, they have already changed the rules on calculating future inflation-linked increases in the state retirement pension without warning, negotiation or consultation. The measure now being used is the lower Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the long-established Retail Prices Index (RPI).

This affects not only the 12 million old age pensioners, but all those receiving pensions from service in the armed forces, many of whom retire at the age of 40 and can well live another 40 years or more. It affects the retirement pensions of the police, teachers, doctors and fire-fighters among many others. This is a clear case of cutting existing entitlements in spite of ministerial assertions that no such cuts are being made.

The Armed Forces Pensions Society calculates that the change in indexation from RPI to CPI will mean a disabled double amputee 28-year old corporal will lose £587.000 by age 70; a 40-year-old Royal Marines sergeant will be £212,000 worse off by age 85 and a 40-year-old squadron leader will lose an estimated £319,000 by age 85. And the widows of servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan will also see their aggregate pension income vastly reduced.

Pensions are now top of the public agenda because the government wants to see everyone employed by local or national government increase their pension fund contributions by about 50%; work for more years before retirement and then get a lower pension by changing their pensions from one based on final salary to a person’s career average earnings. And this at a time when there is a two-year pay freeze and inflation is almost 5%.

In addition, some 2.6 million women who thought they would reach pensionable age at 60 are being told by the government that they will have to wait longer under plans to raise the women’s pension from 60 to 65 by 2018 and then in 2020 the pension age will be 66 for both men and women.

The Forum asked David Burrowes MP, parliamentary private secretary to Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office Minister, to arrange a meeting with Mr Letwin about the pension changes, but this was not possible to arrange. So a small deputation will meet Mr Burrowes to convey our opposition to changes which, it must be said, affect all pensioners – not just public sector workers as the press pretends. Call the office if you would like to join the deputation.

Nor are the planned changes anything to do with the financial deficit which the Government plans to clear by 2015. If the government has its way the pension changes are for all time – though the switch in inflation indexation from RPI to CPI has to be approved by Parliament every year.

Pensions is the one issue when we can truly say: “we’re all in this together” no matter how hard the media tries to play one section off against another. The pretence that it is hard-working taxpayers in the private sector who are funding the pensions of public sector workers, teachers, civil servants and others needs challenging.

For example, we read that the local government pension scheme – covering our council workers – is a fully funded scheme which is well in the black. Far from being unaffordable the average annual payout is just £3.800 a year, but for women it is less than £2,800 – a mere £6 per week! The NHS scheme has more going into it than is paid out. And I gather the government has refused to allow the teachers’ pension fund accounts to be published. Is there something to hide?

Was anything said about these plans to change the pension arrangements before the general election last May? Not only were leaders of both coalition parties silent, they positively denied having ideas about changing index-linking and now we learn that the change from RPI to CPI is expected to lead to a 25% reduction in the value of pensions come the retirement of young people.

And if the government insists on using the lower CPI to measure pension increases why does it allow the rail, energy and water companies to use the higher RPI as the inflation measure to increase prices?

As we try to separate fact from fiction in the long-running pensions saga it is worth reminding ourselves that we paid national insurance contributions for 30 years or more when working so that we could have a decent pension on retirement. We were robbed for 20 years when Mrs Thatcher changed the pensions increase link from average earnings to prices – and now we are being robbed again by changing the link from RPI to CPI

Monty Meth