Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brits abroad: get your voice heard!

Brits abroad: get your voice heard!
Register to vote now,
We British expats often feel neglected by our home country. We’re proud to be British, we have strong ties with back home… but we don’t feel our voice is being heard in government about the issues that affect us.
But there is a way: register to vote. You can now register on line, so nothing could be simpler. Do it now, and provided you’re outside the scope of the 15- year rule, you’ll have a voice in the General Election on 7th May 2015. Young people can register from the age of 16, but to be able to vote you must be aged at least 18 on Election Day. Regularly keeping your voter registration up to date with www.gov.uk/register-to-vote means you’ll also be ready to vote in any referendum on continuing membership of the EU, if one is called, again as long as you’re not prevented from voting by the 15-year rule. To register, all you need is a computer or mobile device with an internet connection, your passport details (number, issuing authority, date of issue), your National Insurance (NI) number, your last postal address in the UK and your current address abroad. The whole process should take less than five minutes. If you haven’t got your NI number to hand, you can ask the site to find it and send it to you, or alternatively identify yourself by other means. All this is clearly explained on the www.gov.uk/register-to-vote website.
If you’ve lived outside the UK for more than 15 years, you won’t be able to complete your registration, but do try to register anyway, in the hope that the website will log failed registration attempts as well as successful ones.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

British Pensioners abroad –under appreciated and largely ignored.

There are 1,224,610 recipients of the British State Pension who live abroad.  Not all are British Citizens, but the vast majority are so. 
The number living in continental Europe plus Ireland is 478,950 (Feb, 2014)  – nearly 40% of the total number of pensioners abroad and nearly 4% of the total of ALL British State pensioners. Nearly one in ten of all British pensioners live abroad (9.4%).
The emigration of the Pensioners to the other States of the EU has been dramatic.  Here is a graph since 1973.

They go – not necessarily for the weather – The winters are very often far colder than in Britain.  They go because housing is cheaper and they can have more space to continue and develop interests.  They are not any richer than those that stay behind, but they may have more 'get up and go! -gumption!'.  Some survive on little more than their pensions.  Some run into problems no different from elderly people in the UK.  Take this example (I have permission to reproduce it).
I will call the Lady -Isabel
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 and further chemotherapy is planned.
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.  It is so dreadfully unfair that we and others in our situation should  not be 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!
Isabel recounts a fairly extreme case which, to a lesser degree, affects so many more  pensioners  throughout Europe.
There are people in Britain who would say ‘You left Britain too bad.”  But the EU is supposed to allow free movement of people.  The UK is responsible, under EU Law, for the welfare of its elderly citizens.  All those 480 thousand citizens are now threatened with being cut off from their support from Britain if Britain withdraws from the Union.
The Pensioner in Europe is already viewed as a second class citizen by the British Civil Service and far too many politicians. But consider the further possibilities if Britain left Europe.
1. Medical support.   This would cease. The UK currently supports the medical care of British pensioners in Europe  to the same level of the cost of care as the citizens where they are resident.  In France for most ordinary care this is to about 60%.  The pensioner has to find the rest.  In the case of Isabel, the cancer care is supported 100%.  A broken leg would not be so – nor a gastric ulcer - nor high blood pressure.
2. The State Pension.  The power in law exists to freeze the annual increase for all State pensions paid abroad, except where special arrangements have been agreed.  These arrangements with the EU would cease if Britain left. Would new arrangements be made? That is at the least uncertain.
3.  The purchase of goods from Britain could be constrained. Import duty could be imposed.
4.   European citizenship would cease and the way would be open for the imposition of  constraints on all  the four free movements of the EU - of people,  money, and any services as well as goods.
BUT even  at this time, as the UK is part of the EU, the British Government through the Civil Service treat us as lesser citizens, as follows.
5. The Civil Service is at this moment pleading for the removal of the UK tax free allowance on income sourced from the UK.  - that means that pensioners who reply on income from  UK property rents or UK bank interest or the small group of those who have pensions non-exportable for tax would lose 20p. in every single  £1 of income.  The situation would be intolerable for some  and they would have to return to Britain and create an increased expenditure on the State.
6. The DWP  led by Iain Duncan Smith pleads for the Winter Fuel Payment to be removed from the citizens who live in certain so-called hot countries (e.g. France) – Isabel’s case shows the unfairness of that! 
7. Investments – Most British pensioners in Europe have some savings in British banks and/or other British institutions. In spite of the EU promise of freedom of movement and services, banks including Santander, Barclays and Lloyds have placed restrictions on the investments or accounts of British Citizens in continental Europe. This, in spite of the EU Commission pleading for the necessity of nationals to retain such accounts.
8.  The situation with regard to pensions of the military, police, teachers and most other public service workers is unfortunate.  They all, by law pay income tax to Britain. In most cases if they paid this tax to the State in which they are resident they would be better off.  None can receive the tax benefits which accrue indirectly through age  (such as the employment of a home-help in France which attracts a 50% tax credit to those who pay income tax to France).
9.  Surely it should be obvious that many British emigrants. pensioners or otherwise, have family ties to Britain.  They will be concerned  for the welfare of grandchildren or parents.
10. One must remember that the British Government acts 'in the name of'' all British Citizens.  So it is that in the activities of  war and foreign aid all British Citizens have some interest.
11. Lastly, trivial perhaps, but indicative of the attitude of the British Civil Service, the cost of passports of British Citizens resident abroad have been disproportionately hiked .
But there is more…
The pensioners in Europe only wish to have a peaceful life and enhance their way of life as their circumstances allow.  This is what being in the EU means.  For Britain to turn its back on them is disgraceful. 
Would it not bring scorn and anger on the government if any pensioner resident in Britain who has given a life time of work in service to the community; whose income entirely comes from pensions and savings grounded in the British economy; who buys goods within the British economy; were not allowed to be represented in the British parliament?   That is the situation that exists now for the expatriate pensioner in Europe.  It is exceedingly difficult for the British Citizen abroad to express their views to the politicians in Britain.  Few politicians have any interest in the Citizen Abroad, though most Citizens abroad have a profound interest in the activities of the British Government – both at home and of course, abroad.

Democracy is the Representation of the people, by the people and for the people. – Oops – Unless you are a Pensioner who has the gumption to take the opportunity given by the EU to widen your horizons and even at the age of sixty plus to move across the channel, or even further.
One is allowed to vote in the constituency where one last resided for up to 15 years, That is not enough – The eleven points enumerated above demonstrate that a much closer democratic relationship is called for with politicians who understand the circumstances of the British Citizen abroad,
It is not helpful to be kicked in the butt by the Government of your own country, nor by the unnecessarily blinkered and prejudiced compatriots at ‘home’ unfortunately led on by a blinkered press and blinkered political parties.
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Brian Cave - Pensioners Debout!