Grit and determination are the bywords for many elderly Britons in Europe.
It is time that the British public became aware that the elderly Briton in Europe is not treated fairly by the UK Government. This winter has brought the situation sharply into focus. Problems resulting from UK Government decisions are the cause. ‘Freedom of Movement’ is understood to be one of the founding principles of the EU. It was not foreseen that the British Government (consciously or not!) would hamper this ‘freedom’. The collapse of the £ has reduced the spending power of their pensions by over 25%. The collapse of some investments for some - (q.v. Equitable Life) has worsened the situation. Some are looking into a financial chasm. Many do not have inflation proofed private pensions and It would seem that inflation in France [at least] exceeds that in Britain. The coming of the EU encouraged many to move to the continent. Since 1973, the number of retired Britons in France has gone from hardly measurable numbers to 54,000. In the seven major western countries of Continental Europe there are now over 265,000 British Pensioners. The emigration from the UK has slowed but not stopped.
We moved to France sixteen years ago, the year before the Winter Fuel Payment was instituted. Since then, we have met many British expats, most of whom arrived in France more than six years after ourselves, and they, of course, do receive this allowance. Whilst we do not, of course, hold this against them; good luck to them - I'm glad they get it. But it is this blatant discrimination by the British government, resulting in the older, more frail (and in many cases, poorer) pensioners being the ones to whom this vital heating allowance is denied and this really upsets me. It beggars belief and I am absolutely astonished that those in successive governments have been unable to see this, not to mention their breaking of European rules (as outlined by David Burrage of the British Expats Association, Spain, and yourself, on many occasions.
Like most of our friends, when we arrived in France aged 60, we were in good health. However, as we all know, as the years go on, many of us are beset by various illnesses and the frailty of old age. I have had several operations and many investigations in hospital for various internal and ophthalmic problems. My husband had a hip replacement three years ago and two other operations since then. He was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago, for which he is being treated with chemotherapy. He has suffered horrific and debilitating side effects and I am, of course, at the age of 77, his only carer. We have no family, either here or in the U.K. There have been improvements as well as setbacks in the progress of his illness
As you can imagine, this past year has been extremely hard on both of us and it is only with the support of the excellent French health professionals as well as the kindness of our friends and neighbours (both French and British) that we have managed to cope. We live on a joint pension income of 12,000 pounds sterling per annum and have to draw on our very modest savings to supplement this. Because of our low income, we downsized seven years ago to a tiny, one-bedroomed house which my husband converted from a carpenter's workshop but his illness and treatment cause him to feel the cold in the extreme and, in spite of the size of our house, I dread to think what our heating bill will be this Winter. Having said this, I must emphasise that we are not moaning about our financial situation in general. Although we both worked hard all our adult lives, we were never high earners and, obviously, our pensions and savings reflect this. However, the purpose of this letter is not to plead poverty and we have never sought financial assistance from anyone, including both British and French governments. We are content to live modestly on what we have and we feel no envy of others who are financially better off than ourselves. We have never, for one moment, regretted our decision to live in France, but it is so dreadfully unfair that we and others in our situation are not allowed to receive the Winter Fuel Payment from the British government when our compatriots do! And, of course, there is nothing we can do about it as, having lived in France for more than fifteen years, we are now disenfranchised as well! We do not seek anything to which we are not entitled as bona fide British pensioners who have worked hard all our lives and paid our dues. I would be most interested to hear someone in Parliament give a watertight reason for this appalling act of unforgivable discrimination!
We shall always be eternally grateful for the tireless work that both you and and David Burrage have done to try to secure the WFP for us as well as so many other rights which are denied to British expats.