Friday, 24 October 2008

Pension change - welcome but not what it seems!

Today's announcement in the Daily Mail that women will be able to improve their state pensions is welcome - but is not quite what it seems.

The issue is that many women retire with incomplete records of National Insurance Contributions - often because of periods in low-paid part-time work or time caring for family. Under plans announced today, women will be able to 'buy back' an extra 6 years of missing NI contributions. However, there are several important restrictions on this:

- it will only apply to women who reach state pension age between 6th April this year and 5th April 2015;
- it will only apply to women who in any case have made 20 years of NI contributions;
- (I'm guessing here...) I very much doubt it will apply to years where women paid the 'married woman's stamp';

From the media coverage this morning you might have imagined that lots of retired women could now boost their pensions, but sadly this is not the case. The changes are estimated to benefit around half a million women who are close to state pension age (or who retired this year) but are of no help at all to the millions of retired women who draw poor pensions. My view is that the BBC have a duty to be a bit more careful in how they report these stories because a lot of people will be bitterly disappointed when they find out that this Government concession does not apply to them.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Doing justice by the Gurkhas

This week I took part in a lobby of Parliament by campaigners calling for justice for Gurkhas who served our country with distinction but who are refused the right to settle here. The campaign has been led publicly by Joanna Lumley, whose father was closely connected with the Gurkhas, and has achieved a recent success in the High Court, where the Government's refusal to allow Gurkhas who retired pre 1997 to settle in the UK was deemed unlawful. The Government is now re-thinking its policy, but we need to keep up the pressure. My view is that it is a disgrace that these very brave men - two of whom were awarded a Victoria Cross for their courage - who served our country are now being sent away on the basis that they do not have strong enough links with this country! This adds insult to injury because one of the reasons why they do not have such strong links is that they and their families have been refused permission to settle. The numbers of people involved is small, but the debt of honour is great, and it something that the UK Government should sort out as a matter of urgency.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Shuffling

Fascinating developments this morning as Gordon Brown re-shapes his Government.

The good news is from what we can tell there is to be a new Department dealing with Energy and Climate Change. At long last! The Lib Dems got there first (yours truly!) by merging the energy portfolio with the DEFRA job, as it's pretty hard to talk about energy policy sensibly without thinking about the implications for climate change. It will be interesting to see if the new department takes over the remaining stages of the Climate Change Bill and accepts our amendment to toughen it up. Perhaps at long last energy efficiency will be taken seriously instead of being a cinderella.

All we need to do now is include transport, building standards, green taxation.... in the Department's remit and we might be getting somewhere!