Monday, August 20, 2012

Representation for British Pensioners

To all members of the Select Committee for Pension Policy.
Each one is addressed personally.
From the Campaign for Representation for Britons Abroad.

I write to you each individually.   Each of you is motivated in the cause of justice for the individual.  What civilised person would not be?   Yet today justice for the British Citizen living beyond the shores of Britain is a fragile thing.  You are concerned for those who are pensioners, yet as far as I can perceive, your concerns in this barely stretch beyond the shores of Britain.  Yet 450,000 State pensioners live in the near continent of Europe and over another 500,000 live further away, with agglomerations chiefly in lands associated as the British Commonwealth and the USA.
There are (February 2012 figures) a grand total of 12,707,640 State Pensioners – of these 1,197,690 live abroad – that is to say 9.42% of the total – nearly one in ten.

There are some astonishing details lodged in the statistics. 
During the last year:-
The total number increased by 134,530  - an increase of    1.070%
The  number resident in the UK increased by 118,560 -up 1.041%
The  number resident abroad rose by 15,970   up                1.351%

PROPORTIONATELY  the numbers abroad are increasing faster than those in the UK.  The rise has slackened since 2009, no doubt because of the financial crisis and the rumoured difficulties of the Euro, but it has not stopped!
The number relating to those abroad, you will understand is not solely due  to an additional clutch of pensioners. The number includes the replacements of those who have died and those who have returned to the UK to end their days amongst their family at ‘home’.  

The movement of pensioners since 1973 to Europe is shown in the following  set of graphs.
Figures gleaned from the series of Government Statistics on pensions–
[To view earlier years change the 12 to 11,10,09 etc]
[Click on the image to enlarge and then 'esc' to return]
The percentage  abroad has increased year by year without relent from 8.22% in 2002  to 9.42% today.
Why should these figures be important to the members of the Select Committee on Pensions Policy?
1. Are these not British Citizens to be honoured and respected for the service they have given to the United Kingdom?
2.  Is it appropriate for the Select Committee to appear to ignore nearly 10% of the elderly citizens of Britain?   You may be surprised to learn that the British pensioner abroad feels ignored and rejected by the British Government but she and he most surely does.
The counter arguments.
Some in Parliament (I speak of the 600 not just the committee) would argue that if the pensioner moves abroad then he or she has moved out of the ambit of the British Government and therefore is on his ‘tod’ and HMG has no interest.   That has been, has it not, the attitude behind the saga of the Winter Fuel Payment?  Has not that also been the feeling behind the resistance to paying the DLA  or Attendance Allowance?  Some of you in Parliament have assumed that the migrant pensioner must be better heeled than those at ‘home’.  Some of you have considered that the migrant pensioner is bathing in warm sunshine all the year round. (Yet winter temperatures in much of Europe are colder than Cornwall and certainly more cold than the Western Isles of Scotland where average minimum temperatures in winter are above zero).  We are reported as scroungers and parasites in some press items. 
Perhaps as a committee you might consider the reasons why so many migrate.
Reasons for emigration
Quality of Life.  Many want space and cannot afford that space in the UK.  The cost of a tiny terraced house in London could win you a delightful detached house with a large garden in France. 
Quite a few follow their children who have previously taken advantage  of the ‘free’ movement in the EU. Others follow their children to Canada or Australia.  Many have gone to Ireland, again for reasons of space.  Others with a zest for life seek new horizons.
Pensioners in Europe (and the World)
All those who migrate to continental Europe assume that having paid into the National Insurance System for perhaps 40 years and also assuming that ‘freely untrammelled movement’ under EU regulations means what it says,  have joyously taken up a new life in their old age, carrying the culture of Britain with them, just as do the British expatriates all over the world.  They rejoice in the British successes at the Olympics.  They cheer for Wiggo as he cycles through the French countryside.  They hold tea parties to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee and watch with fascination the wedding of Kate and Will. 
Can you imagine people more British and proud? These are people who know at first hand the ravages of European wars (as I can relate from personal experience! Note my Biography link at the end).  These are people who see themselves as global or European Citizens.  Financial, Family and plain cultural ties glue them to Britain.  Great numbers are affected by financial decisions of Parliament.  But over all else they are British and are ambassadors for Britain.  
There is also a younger generation of Britons who are in the world spreading British influence and giving it all they have in entrepreneurial effort.
Britain’s insulting soggy cloth
Do all these Britons deserve the soggy cloth that is thrown at them by the British Government?
The Government and the Government before, and before that again, has told the expatriate pensioner that after 15 years abroad, his/her interest in Britain has surely waned.  A spokesman for Nick Clegg has said:-
“Nick appreciates that there are some British expatriates who have lived abroad for over 15 years and who want to vote in British elections. However, as you may know, Nick supports the existing legislation on this issue, including the removal of the right to vote after 15 years of living abroad. If a Briton has settled in another country, it is intuitive that they would know about and be directly affected by the issues of that country. If they want to become politically active, then they should register to vote in  the country they have settled in.”   ‘In short – get stuffed!’
There is no word in the Thesaurus which expresses the disdain and open mouthed astonishment that this paragraph engenders in the pensioner within the EU. It is unbelievable that such sentiments can be uttered by a politician who has served in Brussels, has a Spanish wife and speaks Dutch like a native.  Somehow the concept of Europe as a comity of nations with threads of the citizens of its nations weaving links across the continent, each binding the whole but tied to their home National Government at the selvedge is lost on him.   
The cloth of nations that is Europe would be weakened if the thread that is Britain were to be pulled loose. It could fall apart if certain sentiments are allowed to run on untrammelled through the body politic of Britain.
The words of Clegg, Farrage,  and the ranting of the Sun and the Mail are  damaging the future role of Britain in Europe.  The thread of Britain in Europe needs reinforcement, not to be broken.  
The heart of Europe.
Being at close proximity to the British Isles, it is not surprising that the crisis is most acute for the pensioners who live there in the EU/EEA and Switzerland.
We pensioners live in close association and awareness with the United Kingdom.  We are so fascinated with the political scene that we watch each Wednesday PMQs,  and  at other times Dateline London, Question Time and listen to Any Questions each Friday.  Most of us have no representation at all in Parliament.  There is no-one sitting on those green benches who has any real appreciation as to what it is like being a Briton in Europe, subject to regulations derived from the EU with treaties signed by the UK acting in our name but without any representation from us.
If a Referendum on the future of Britain in Europe should ever come to be, the vast majority of Britons who would be most profoundly affected by the outcome will have no say whatsoever in the deliberation.  This is not democracy.
As things are – The Briton in Europe can do no more than sit back and let a distant Parliament decide their future.  It is not surprising that our minds hearken back 240 years  to the time of George III and the American Colonies when the British Government dictated to those in a distant land.  Today it is same syndrome.  A blundering Government  dictates what its distant unrepresented citizens shall do.

Subjects which should be of concern to the Select Committee on Pensions Policy.
All the above has as it central theme the issue of Representation.
Firstly then--- . Representation for the Briton Abroad at Westminster. 
Remember - A Nation does not exist without its citizens. 
                     It is the totality of the Citizens which is the Nation – whether they be resident in a small patch of territory or not. 
                        The Government of a Nation should be through the goodwill of its citizens. 

To study this in further detail refer to
Large numbers of Britons Abroad have left comments viewable at.
But then there are other matters -  All are explored in the next link.

1.  The taxation of Government Pensions - and associated with this the curious muddles of The Double Taxation Treaties.  These are a great mix-up and their impact is quite unfairly imposed on the pensioner in Europe.  Their impact is ridiculous.  Some pensioners who live in France pay more tax in consequence than should be the case.
2. The problem of use of the British financial institutions. And the maintenance of a bank account in the UK, for British Pensioners.
3. The interpretation of EU Law on Health and Social Security Costs for the British Pensioner.  The British Pensioners in Europe are under EU law dependent on the United Kingdom for their Social Security. The phrase is ‘the UK is the competent State' for their social security- therefore you, the Select Committee, should ensure that all operates satisfactorily for the pensioner in Europe.  The current interpretation of these laws runs counter to his/her interests.
2. The uniformity of payment of pensions to all pensioners in the World.
Those who have moved to the Commonwealth countries of Australia and Canada and SA and elsewhere are grieved that their State pensions are frozen. Yet is it not astonishing that British pensions paid to those in  Jamaica (equally a Commonwealth country) or the USA, are not frozen?

These items demonstrate to you that yawning disparities exist in concerns for the elderly citizen abroad in different and perplexing ways.

But the central focus is that we are neither permanently nor adequately represented in the seat of our Nation’s Government.
On October 23rd a debate will open in the Lords on the very point of Representation of  the Briton Abroad.  If an amendment fails on this then shame will cloud once more the seat of Parliament as it did in 1776.
Please support now in the Lords, and in any future debate in the Commons, the rights of all pensioners (and thereby all Britons Abroad) to appropriate Representation for life in the Houses of Parliament.

To.   Select Committee
Dame Anne Begg MP (Chair) Labour Aberdeen South  
Ms. Teresa Pearce MP Labour Erith and Thamesmead

Postscript on November  17th 2012 - Only the chairperson replied to this mail - individually sent to each MP.  Anne Begg misunderstood and thought it  ONLY concerned the frozen State Pensions afflicting Pensioners in certain Commonwealth countries.  NONE of them responded to a call for Representation for British Citizens. 
The Debate in the House of Lords has been suspended because of inter party friction created by the Liberal Democrats.


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      One should look at other postings on this site to understand more fully the arguments for developing a truly democratic system in Europe. If we do not strengthen democracy the way is open for dictatorship.