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Sunday 24 January 2021

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Pre-conference discussion: is TUSC ignoring pensioners' demands?

Following the publication at the end of last year of the TUSC draft core policy platform for the May 2021 local elections (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/17426/22-11-2020/tusc-sets-out-core-policies-for-may-2021-local-elections) a number of individuals and organisations have taken up the opportunity to comment.

One question that has come up can be summarised in the blunt heading the correspondent gave to her e-mail: "you have ignored pensioners in your draft council election policies".

Obviously that does not refer to the core policies that every TUSC candidate must commit to of opposing all cuts and closures to council services or their privatisation. But specifically measures to right the injustice suffered by women in particular from the raising of the state pension age by both New Labour and Tory governments.

We are printing below an article by the ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson, now a member of the TUSC steering committee as a representative of the Resistance Movement, which sets out a clear case for central government action to achieve pensions justice. It was first published in the Morning Star newspaper in August last year (see https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/there%E2%80%99s-no-reason-why-we-can%E2%80%99t-all-have-proper-pensions).

The TUSC steering committee will continue to discuss what local councils could do in this fight. The draft core platform for council policies will also be debated at the TUSC local elections conference being held on Sunday February 7 (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/events for Zoom details).

Establishing a local council hardship fund to make non-means tested payments equivalent to the £137.60 a week basic state pension to those denied their pension rights would be possible. With thousands of women born in the 1950s (and now, the 1960s) in every council area, a massive campaign would be needed to force the central government to underwrite the millions in extra council spending this would entail.

But the point is that it could be done - if there were councillors elected who are prepared to fight.

And the core policy platform, which is only the minimum commitment which someone must give in order to stand as part of the TUSC umbrella, shows without doubt that that is exactly what TUSC councillors would do!

There's no reason why we can't all have proper pensions

Britain is a wealthy nation so the provision of dignity in retirement is not an unaffordable luxury - it should be a basic right for all citizens, says CHRIS WILLIAMSON. From the Morning Star, 7 August 2020.

THE provision of a decent retirement pension system in Britain has been a bone of contention for many years.

But despite the efforts of high-profile campaigners like former trade union leaders Jack Jones and Rodney Bickerstaffe, the situation has steadily worsened over the last 40 years.

This includes the 13 years that New Labour were in office under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

In the world's fifth-biggest economy, there is no justification for the parsimonious state pension, nor the increased pension age, which is due to rise to 67 by 2028 and then to 68 in the following decade.

That means that anyone born between April 6 1970 and April 5 1978 will not be able to retire until they are 67.

Anyone born after April 6 1978 will not be entitled to a state pension until they are 68.

Women have been the hardest hit by these changes.

Campaigners feel particularly aggrieved by the New Labour governments of Blair and Brown, who left the provisions of the Tories' 1995 Pension Act in place.

This was the statute that enacted the equalisation of the state pensions age (SPA) to 65 between April 2010 to 2020 for men and women.

But then in 2007, the New Labour government announced that the equalised state pension age would rise to 66 between 2024 and 2026.

Then the coalition government legislated in 2011 to accelerate the timetable, starting in April 2016 when women's SPA was 63.

Their justification for this was that life expectancy had risen faster than expected.

However, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, stated last year that life expectancy is falling, not rising.

Furthermore, the government's actuaries department warned ministers back in 2005 that if they proceeded with the change, almost one million people who were alive then, would die before they got any basic state pension.

Nevertheless, the New Labour administration ploughed on regardless.

New Labour's 2004 Finance Act also increased the minimum age at which workers could draw their occupational pension from 50 to 55, which came into effect on April 6 2010.

Now the government has stated that the minimum age for occupational pensions will increase again to 57 in 2028.

The various petitions and legal actions against the attacks on our state and occupational pensions by successive governments have so far been unsuccessful, but we must keep up the pressure.

Britain is a wealthy nation with its own sovereign currency, so the provision of dignity in retirement is not an unaffordable luxury, it should be a basic right for all citizens.

It simply requires political will to make it happen. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the Labour leader, we came close to creating the political space to implement such a radical change, but we were sabotaged by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the party's bureaucrats.

That is why we need to work towards building an unstoppable grassroots movement and potentially a new electoral vehicle, because our representatives in Parliament have singularly failed to live up to expectations.

With around 5,000 women born in the 1950s and a similar number born in the 1960s in every constituency in the country, the potential to exert political influence on this issue is enormous.

The Grey Swans campaign group is one of a number of organisations demanding pensions justice.

The Grey Swans are calling for a state pension of £372 per week payable to men and women from the age of 60.

They also call for a range of other changes including a lower SPA.

The stock response from national politicians is that demands like these are unrealistic and unaffordable, but that is simply not true.

The same politicians never have any difficulty in voting for wars, and as Tony Benn used to say: "If we can find money to kill people, we can find money to help people."

According to the National Audit Office almost a trillion was found to support the broken banking industry.

Britain is a currency-issuing nation so we are not constrained in the way politicians and media commentators claim we are.

With political will, we can use the flexibility of a sovereign currency to create a good society, including the provision of a decent pension.

The only constraint is the availability of spare capacity in the economy such as unemployed and underemployed workers.

There is a huge deficit in high quality public services, action to address climate change, decent infrastructure etc.

But the only deficit that governments of every stripe are concerned about is the fiscal deficit.

Ironically, that is the only deficit that doesn't matter, so long as it isn't exceeding the availability of real resources in the economy.

The comprehensive destruction of the Corbyn project inside the Labour Party was a bitter blow, but the underlying veracity of the values underpinning the enthusiasm for the project remain.

Which is why as socialists we need to dust ourselves down and continue to be the tribune of the people, raising expectations and political consciousness.

We must continue to demand a good society where poverty is eliminated, and everyone can live out their lives in dignity. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains!